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10 painful steps to the perfect column

Barry Smith

Most people seem to have no idea the amount of toil that goes into writing a column such as this one. For some reason they seem to think that someone (like me) just sits down and spews out a bunch of silly little jokes and obvious puns and calls it a day.Nothing could be further from the truth there is a painstakingamount of research, teamwork and just plain love that goes into each and every word that I write. With one exception: “Gliblefluster.” That’s the one word I always write without thinking too much about it.Since you asked sort of let me take you through this magical creative process step by step.STEP ONE Visualization: This is the most strenuous part of the creative process. In order to write a column, you gotta have an idea, right? And ideas don’t come easy. You have to work for them. Did I say “work?” I meant slave. Struggle. Fingers to the bone. Like that.My first step towards generating ideas is through a process called&quotVisualization.&quot I learned this technique at a weekend retreat whereeveryone was made to wear white, flowing clothing and forced to eat grubs.I’ve modified the techniques slightly so I can use them at home, where grubs are a little harder to come by. First of all, I take some deep breaths, allowing me to go into “quiet mode.” Then I light some incense and a few candles, put some comfy pillows on the floor and sit cross-legged with my eyes closed.Then in my mind’s eye I see it the exact location of the leftoverguacamole.STEP TWO Brainstorming: After my attempts at visualization guide me through some binge eating, I generally fall back on the idea-generating method I learned in my high school composition class, brainstorming. The idea is to write down as many column “concepts” as I can in two minutes, without any internal editing or judgment, no matter how totally lame they always end up being.Here are the results of a recent brainstorming session:SUV names.My left index finger.Why I love Q-Tips.The steps of writing a column.Why I still love Q-Tips.YOUR left index finger.An interview with the Anti-Christ.Why do birds suddenly appear?STEP THREE Depression: This step begins immediately after thebrainstorming is over, when I look at what I’ve just written and realize what a loser I am.STEP FOUR Unconsciousness: No matter what time of day it is, it’simportant to take a long, hardy nap as soon as depression sets in.STEP FIVE Epiphany: In my groggy, post-nap haze I’m often convinced that I might just be able to squeeze 700 words from one of my lame ideas, like maybe the one about sport utility vehicle names. I’m saved!STEP SIX For obvious reasons, I don’t have a Step Six.STEP SEVEN The Rough Draft: This is where I actually begin to feel in control of my work again. In this case, I sit down at my computer, crack my knuckles theatrically and type, “Why is it that they call them Range Rovers, anyway? They don’t ever really rove the range. Shouldn’t they have called them Mall Rovers? Or something?”STEP EIGHT Rewrite: Days later I sit down at my computer again. I open up the document and change “Mall Rovers” to “Driveway Rovers.”Whew where DOES this stuff come from?STEP NINE Completion: The rough draft, in this case consisting of 26 words, is quietly left on the desk of my editor with an attached note: “Here is my column. It’s a little short, but feel free to pad it out with some ideas of your own, or maybe print it really big.”STEP TEN Celebration: I bask in the feeling of fulfillment. But it’s atemporary high, because in the back of my mind I know that STEP ONE is just around the corner.Barry Smith, an Aspen-based freelance writer, moves his lips while writing this column, and hopes you do the same while reading it. E-mail him at barry@irrelativity.com or visit his Web page at http://www.Irrelativity.com.


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