Writers Talk About Writing
Are you doomed like Sisyphus?
In a dark and gloomy pit, deep in the bowels of the earth, a large and strongly muscled man rolls a heavy boulder up a steep hill. The task takes him the entire day. But when he gets to the top, ooophhhh, the stone escapes his grasp and rolls right back down to the bottom. So the next day he must begin all over again.
If you received a classical education, or if you simply enjoy mythology, you will recognize this story as the myth of Sisyphus from the Greeks. Poor Sisyphus never catches a break. The same damn stone rolls down the same hill every night and he must push it right back up again the next day. For eternity. So, my question to writers: Why are you behaving like Sisyphus?
I often talk to writers and corporate communicators who do the same thing again and again every week -- seldom recognizing that they are doing unnecessary work. Whenever I hear from writers or editors who are frustrated about having too much to do, I always ask "do you have any content templates?" Usually, their answer is "What does that mean?"
Here's the scoop.
Similar to a graphic template, a content template is a form letter or document that sits on your computer to address communications you have to do repeatedly. For example, I have a "request for an interview" template that resides in one of my Outlook folders. Whenever I need to interview someone for a story, I simply fill in the blanks and send it off:
I produce the publication _______ and I am working on a story about ______. I was wondering if I could set up an interview with you? I need about 20 minutes of your time, by phone. Is there a time that would be best for you? My availability is pretty good over the next week, except for ______. Please note that I am in the Pacific Time zone, but I tend to be an early starter and am prepared to book as early as 7 am. My deadline for having the interview completed is: _______. Please let me know as soon as possible.
I also have "templates" for:
- fact checking
- instructions to suppliers such as photographers, graphic designers and printers
- pleas for story ideas
These content templates might sound like small, inconsequential things, but over a week or month they add up dramatically and can save you a lot of time and aggravation.
In a similar vein, I have a story template (a table in Word) for each publication I produce. In it, I list the number of stories I need (this usually doesn't change much from issue to issue) and a target word count for each. Then, when I do my story lineup, I'm essentially filling in slots and not starting from a "blank page" each time.
I know this all sounds woefully uncreative -- but here's the secret: It frees up your mind for creativity where it really matters. And besides, it stops you from rolling boulders uphill.