Planning by rehearsing

A famous psychology experiment showed that people who rehearse what’s about to happen handle it better. You sit in front of three closed doors. When one door opens, you have to perform complicated tasks using controls revealed behind that door. Psychologists then interview you.

They found that those who imagined what might be behind the doors performed markedly better, even when what they envisioned had nothing to do with what actually happened. The process of rehearsal itself enhanced their actions.

A writer can use those findings at the beginning of Gathering. Writers who rehearse what they are about to find out see more and hear better. Those who imagine multiple scenarios discover even more.

There’s a problem. Some writers streamline their gathering by deciding exactly what they will find out, and they set out to find just that, nothing more. A young reporter once told me that when she had her facts and a quote, she had enough. I asked her if she liked her stories, and she replied that she “found them kinda thin.”

Imagining the piece helps, no matter how you do it. Imagining multiple stories makes the process rich.

How would you imagine multiple stories? Let’s say that you’re writing about a company in California that lets wealthy clients create their own wine. As you drive to the winery, you start spinning scenarios on what you’re about to discover:

1. A legitimate operation that caters to rich connoisseurs
2. A fraudulent outfit that creates illusions for suckers
3. A well-meaning business that compromises a lot, etc.

As you arrive and start to gather, other scenarios pop up. A very efficient writer might simply push aside all but one and dig up enough to prove it. Very efficient writers tend to settle too early and miss a lot. They write fast, but “kinda thin.”

Comedians have a slogan that helps them with timing: “Wait for it.” So when you’re about to pounce, say to yourself, “Wait for it, wait for it.” And gather more.

Rehearsal also helps in the Organizing phase. Instead of trying to find THE way to do the piece, sketch out several and see which one fits what you want to say and the information you have, or can get. Our wine story might go several ways:

1. Track one client through the whole process
2. Focus on the marketing campaign
3. Describe the winemaking process in terms of options
4. Let the clients talk about the wines as you taste them, etc.

A friend of mine actually wrote this story after making his own wine. (I don’t drink, but my wife Joan judged it pretty good.) He not only spun out several scenarios, but also drafted three versions. Eventually he and his editor settled on one approach, modified it a little, and produced a fourth, final version. That sounds slow and cumbersome, but it did produce a deep story.

Rehearsal actually doesn’t take long. Just take off your earphone and imagine what you’re about to experience or write.

[Got any anecdotes about your version of rehearsal?]

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Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

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