I Don't Have Time for This!
I apologize for the long delay since my last newsletter. I have a good excuse, but I need to warn you. In this era of layoffs and gloom-and-doom predictions for our industry, my excuse might sound a bit tone deaf.
But, wow. I am so busy.
Like really, really, really busy.
It's the life of a freelancer, right? I was freaking out in January and February and parts of March – sure that I'd never earn enough money to pay my bills.
Now, I'm juggling too many projects, working seven days a week and struggling to find the time to make myself a healthy dinner, let alone go for a walk with a friend.
And I know it might sound like I'm complaining. But I'm not.
I love this shit.
Really, the more busy I am, the happier I am. I was not built to sit still.
But there's one thing that happens when I get really busy. Somehow, all the strategies I've developed over the years to manage an overbooked schedule get thrown to the side.
I forget that sometimes you gotta spend a little time to save a LOT of time.
(It's kinda like that old "you gotta spend money to make money thing" except for real people who don't have a bunch of money lying around to spend!)
Anyway, I needed to remind myself to slow down. Take a breath. And follow the strategies I've used for years. And, while I was at it, I thought I'd share those strategies with you, too.
So, let's call this one "Seven Secrets for Surviving Storytelling Stress."
And, yeah. It could have been five secrets…or eight secrets. But I'm a sucker for alliteration. Aren't you?
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Secret #1: Phone a Friend...Always
Ugh, okay. I know this one. But yet, a couple weeks ago, in a fit of industriousness, I spent three days writing an entire episode without first discussing the arc of that episode with my reporting partner.
The result? Both of us decided that it was just the wrong episode, at the wrong time.
At first I thought I'd be able to remedy the problem by just slotting the episode later in the series. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized…the episode was just a complete loss.
(Don't worry. I'll cannibalize parts of it and fit them into other episodes. But as a whole…this episode will never see the light of day.)
And let me tell you, you do NOT want to throw away three days of work when you're already working seven days a week!
This whole thing could have been avoided if I had just found 15 minutes to have a conversation about what I needed to accomplish with this episode and how to do it. But for some reason…I thought I was too busy for that?
So, yeah, those conversations can feel like a luxury. But believe me, they're a necessity.
And if you don't have a fabulous writing partner, like I do, look for someone else who can give you feedback. Every time I tell a story to a friend, I get greater clarity on what's important, what's unnecessary and how to make it sing.
Secret #2: Structure, Then Write
I know I harp on this one all the time, but somehow I still manage to forget to do it myself.
You gotta figure out the big picture before you can really play around with telling a compelling story. Otherwise, you're gonna waste time writing entire sections that just don't fit.
For example…I love writing cold opens. Often, they use my sexiest tape. They're fun. They're dramatic. They give all the goosebumps.
But you can't write a cold open until you know how your story is going to end.
Well, I mean, you CAN. But you shouldn't.
Structure your entire story. Make an outline. Arrange sticky notes on a wall. Or simply edit your audio so that you have everything in the right order.
Use whatever method works for you. The important part is, don't start writing until you know where your story is going…and how it's going to get there.
Secret #3: Make the Hard Cuts
Yeah, I know. It's really really really sad to cut that anecdote that you love so much. But there is a finite amount of time. And listeners have a finite attention span.
Often we tell ourselves, I just gotta cram it in. I'll find somewhere else to cut. I'm sure I will!
And then we run into something I saw this week, when one of my story editing clients submitted a script that was twice as long as it was supposed to be.
TWICE AS LONG
Hey, look. I'm not messing around. If you give me a script that needs to be 40 minutes long and it's 80 minutes long, I'm not gonna be precious about it.
I don't care if that anecdote is your favorite. I'm gonna make the cuts that get us to time.
I will not dilly. I will not dally.
Sometimes, I have to apply the same harsh approach to my own work. So, believe me. I know it's heartbreaking.
And I also know that it's super inefficient. So save yourself the heartbreak… and the time. If you've got too much stuff, cut it down before you proceed.
Secret #4: Recognize when Enough is Enough
I'm working on an investigative project that has what seems to be an endless pool of interview subjects. Seriously. We've interviewed more than 40 people already, and we've talked to dozens more.
At some point, you just gotta call it. Yes, there's a risk that there is some part of the story we haven't heard yet. There's always gonna be that risk.
But when you have 60 hours of interview tape, there's just no chance you're gonna use it all. And the more you have, the longer it's going to take to figure out how it all fits together.
That doesn't mean that you scrimp on the interviews. I used to have a photography instructor who would encourage us to keep shooting by saying, "Pixels are free!"
And I kinda feel the same way with interviews. You're not being charged by the minute. Go ahead and explore that avenue you're not sure is important. Schedule the interview with the person who says they don't have much to say. You never know where it might lead.
But at some point, you need to recognize when enough is enough.
For an investigative series, like the one I'm working on, I think you've reached that point when the story stops changing.
Yes, if you interview more people, you're gonna get more details. More great anecdotes. But this new information isn't going to change your fundamental understanding of what happened.
Unfortunately, 40+ interviews in, we haven't gotten there yet with this project. And it launches in July.
Pray for me.
Secret #5: Have Fun
I get it. When you're looking at a To Do list that's a mile long, it can be hard to remember why it is that you do this job. So let me remind you.
Storytelling kicks ass.
I am sure that there are doctors and lawyers and teachers and nurses and businesspeople and [insert job here] who get satisfaction from their jobs. At least I hope they do!
But none of us became storytellers because it pays well. We're not doing this work to get famous. And I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that we're not doing this job because there's no other job we could be doing.
For the most part, we have had to fight to find our places in this storytelling world. It has been a struggle.
When I'm doing the job – yes, even the boring parts of the job – I try to remind myself that I chose this. I chose this profession. And I'm lucky enough to be able to choose my projects and to choose to be busy.
And one of the reasons I can choose my projects and choose to be busy is because I do good work! People would stop hiring me if my stories were dull.
It's hard to be creative under pressure. When the deadlines are approaching, it's easy to slip into "just the facts" mode.
But here's the crazy thing. While telling myself to "be creative" feels like adding another item on my To Do list, telling myself to "have fun" feels like something I can totally do.
It takes less time, not more
So have fun! Really.
You TOTALLY have time for that!
Secret #6: Take A Moment for Yourself
I know it sounds counterintuitive. You've got a big storytelling deadline. So much writing to do! How will you ever get it done in time?
But there's this crazy thing I learned about myself in college. And maybe it's true of you, too?
I don't work well when I'm over-tired.
In college, that meant that while my classmates would stay up all night writing a paper, I'd go to sleep with the paper unfinished. And then I'd set my alarm for the morning – giving me just enough time to do what needed to be done.
The first time I did this, I was terrified. But as time went on, I realized that it worked! I always woke up and was able to finish with time to spare.
The same thing is true now. The day before a huge writing deadline, I left my desk to go for a sunny walk with a friend. The day before I had a big sound design mix due, I took half a day to go to brunch with someone else.
(Yeah, I'm currently working seven days a week. But I'm not working ALL day every day. It's a choice I made to keep my sanity, and it works for me.)
The point is, your brain needs time off.
And sometimes, just a little bit of procrastination can make all the difference.
That's it for this time! If you have a friend who would benefit from this silly newsletter, please do tell them about it.
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