“Rats! I forgot to shop for a card for my father!”
“Why don't you make him something like Gil made my mother?” Gil is a friend of my mother-in-law's who lives in her retirement community. For her recent 98th birthday, he snagged some historical highlights of her birth year from the web, added a few sappy sentiments at the end, and wowed everyone. It was sweet, but … if I were going to do something like that, it would be a bit more, well, elegant. And definitely not sappy.
“I don't want to. It would take forever. … But … let me look at Gil's thing again.” He dug it out.
Hmm, I thought. How long could it take to pull a few facts off the web. A little bit more formatting, maybe a couple of graphics. Surely I could think of a suitable conclusion.
I cranked up Google to explore 1920. Most events pertained to war, the aftermath of war, or what would later be recognized as preludes to war. But did you know that's the year it became illegal to mail babies via the USPS? Prohibition began that year – for alcohol in this country and contraceptives in France.
I started playing with layout. A little graphic maybe? Yeck! Boring hardly began to describe it.
Let me see what I can do with PowerPoint, I thought. A few slides, a few graphics. How long could that take?
I knew. I truly knew. But I realized I'd been bitten by this bug and the only way out was through.
Let's just say I didn't sleep much that night, and most planned tasks sat undone the next day. By the middle of the day after that, I had created a PowerPoint slideshow with animated loads and transitions for text and graphics. I'd snagged audio of a 19w0 top hit parade song. The final slide was an animated version of the image you see above, accompanied by a version of Happy Birthday, sung way better than our family could ever do. I'd converted the file to a Flash video with the free iSpring plug-in. All was done.
“Good grief, if I'd realized how much time you'd sink into this project, I never would have suggested it!”
“I knew. It's always that way. That's why I didn't want to do it, but I'm glad I did. It was fun.”
It was fun. And it's typical of most projects I do, even more intentional ones. A project may seem too big, too vast. But I've learned through time that if I just nibble on a corner, I'll find my way.
I cranked out a handout recently for the next series of my Writing for the Health of It class. I had no idea how to do it. So I began writing a few basic ideas. Those led to more. Soon I had a sense of direction. In a surprisingly short period of time, it all flowed together. A formatting tweak here, another there. Print it out for an edit.
The key is to get lost in the process. Let it lead the way. If I try to force it to go the way I want, I always get discouraged. If I let the energy of the project lead the way, the path is a lot smoother.
These are some of the principles I've always known and used on some level, as far back as high school when I worked on the props committee for drama club plays. I was delighted to find that Mark David Gerson summarizes them most eloquently on the front page of his website, starting with Rule #1:
Rule #1: There are no rules: How can there be when creativity is all about breaking new ground and breaking old rules?
Thanks Mark David. This list is wind beneath our wings and a great reason to ask Santa to put a copy of your book in our stockings — paired with a copy of mine!
Write now: think of a story you want to write and play with it. Using Mark David's list as guidance, let it tell you how it wants to be written.
P.S. I know you'll wonder. I can't show you the finished product, because I created it for strictly personal purposes and posting it publicly would violate copyright all over the place.