Let's say you have a problem relating to your writing or selling what you write. You're stuck...now what?
I suggest a brainstorming activity I call, “How do THEY do it?” First you think of somebody who does something that’s similar to—but not exactly the same as—whatever you want to do. Then you look at what are the main things they do and translate those back to what you’re trying to do.
For example, let’s say you have finished writing a book or script and now you want to sell it. First let’s pick a “they.” Who sells stuff? Well, salespeople. Let’s pick the kind of selling that probably is the most daunting: door to door sales.
WHAT THEY DO
What do THEY do? Make a list of their key behaviours and attitudes:
They go from door to door, calling on many potential customers in a day.
They come up with a first sentence or two that is designed to capture the interest of the potential customer so the latter won’t slam the door in their face.
They have a strong pitch that relates the product to the needs of the potential customer.
They have answers ready for the most likely objections, such as “I can’t afford it right now,” or “I’ll have to ask my spouse.”
They know that most people will say no, but that if they persist, it’s likely some will say yes.
They listen to what the non-buyers say and adjust their pitch accordingly for the next time they might make the sale. They learn from the no's.
WHAT WE CAN DO
Now what can we take away from that in terms of selling our manuscript or script? What would be our equivalents to what "they" are doing?
One is that we would approach a number of agents or publishers or producers, not one at a time. After all, a door to door salesperson wouldn’t say, “Well, Mrs Miller said she’d think about it and let me know next week, so I’ll just wait for her answer before I try next door.”
To get our foot in the door we would fashion a strong first sentence for our query letter or our pitch, so we capture the interest of our potential customer.
We would think about what objections might come up—for instance, maybe that it would cost too much to produce a certain script—and we’d be ready with an answer. Maybe we could even build that information into the pitch or the query letter itself to disarm the objection.
For instance, if you were pitching a novel right now that features zombies, you’d want to be sure to explain very early in the letter or pitch how it’s different from all the zombie stories out there at the moment.
We would not give up after the first few rejections.
And we would listen to the feedback we get, and if several potential customers point out the same issue, we’d fix it before moving on to the next one.
That’s the “How do THEY do it?” strategy and you can apply it to just about any process that you’re finding difficult.
Having trouble building a story? Figure out how the people who build houses do it and translate that back to story-building.
Having problems with a story that seems too predictable but you don't know how to throw the reader off the scent? List how magicians deceive their audience and find out which strategies might work in your story.
Finding it difficult to come up with ideas? Find out how advertising agency people come up with them and apply them to your kind of story-telling.
By getting inspired by people and solutions outsideo of your field you will come up with fresh ideas, not imitations of what everybody else in yours is doing already.
(You'll find lots more creative ideas for solving writing problems and creating powerful stories, in my book Your Writing Coach. It's published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)