Sunday, September 28, 2014

Three Parts Of Prep

The last in an enduring series written by my friend and hero, Jay Trachman:

One of the nice things about teaching is that it helps one to organize his own thoughts. While explaining to a Jock Doc student recently about how to create Life Content, it occurred to me that the process has three distinct parts, which ought to be kept separate, lest they pollute each other.

Life Content: you, talking about your own life; Sharing the little emotion-causing experiences with your one listener. A lot of them seem so trivial when you're experiencing them, that you forget them by the time you're on the air. Yet these are the kind of raps that individualize you, reach your listener, and bond you to him or her.

Part one of the process is "research": gathering, "standing outside yourself" and noticing that something just caused you a significant emotion.

Then, "getting it down," saving the thought until you can deal with it more thoroughly. The best tools for doing this are a pocket pad, a microcassette or mini-sound recorder. When something happens that you think you might enjoy Sharing with your mate or your best friend -- make a note of it!

You see, when you're talking to someone in real life, the two of you go back & forth in conversation. Eventually, something will remind you to mention the experience in question. When you're talking with your listener, you get no such outside cues; you have to do all the work. That's why you have to make the notes. My own, collected over the past few days: "hummingbirds" ... "wind while biking" ... "radishes."

The second step is your show prep. Here you take the notes you made, and flesh them out into raps. "We've got hummingbirds in our garden! I never saw one in my life until yesterday, except in books, and I'm out watering the garden when all of a sudden, this thing that looks like a fat butterfly swoops in and *stops*! I mean, he's hovering in mid-air, wings beating a mile a minute, this pint-sized miracle, right in front of me! Then off he goes! For a minute, my heart was beating as fast as his wings!"
  • "Did you ever notice while biking, that you're always pedaling into the wind? Whenever I go to the post office, I can feel the wind in my face as soon as I turn the corner, and I always say to myself, 'Brisk wind today; it'll be nice when I'm coming home...' And then when I'm on the way back, instead of a nice tail-wind, it's still blowing into my face... Because, obviously, there really isn't much wind; it just seems that way when you're pedaling... Sometimes I think life's a little like that, don't you?"
  • "I guess this is the end of the cool-weather crop season; my radishes and lettuce have both started to bolt; we're picking them as fast as we can, but they're still setting flower heads; one of the radishes blossomed overnight -- which means it's no longer edible, right? Right. Another little lesson, learned the hard way -- pthbthbthbt!"
Notice how I've led to a feeling at the end of each bit; with any luck, you (or my listener) experienced some feeling in response. That's the whole reason for doing the bit.

Now comes part three of the process, and I can't over-emphasize the importance of keeping it separate from the other two: the editing. You don't ever want to be editing while you're gathering or writing, because it shuts down the creative process. I'd rather throw a bit away later, than miss one because my "censor" was working, and I told myself, "Naah -- that's not worth Sharing..."

Editing means taking the bit I created, then examining it to decide which details are necessary to set up the ending ("kicker") and which just add time. Also, does the structure set up the ending? Does the kicker express my feeling strongly enough so there's a good chance my best friend will respond?

The research is your life... The prep is taking your experiences, identifying the emotions you experienced, and figuring out how to make your best friend feel something, too... The editing is making it fit within the format requirements of brevity and structure, making sure the kicker is strong enough. These are the three distinct parts of creating raps. Keep them separate. You'll enjoy the process more, and find yourself working more productively when you do.

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