One Thousand Words… Just Add Water

The woman who leads the writing workshop I’ve been participating in is a genius at time management.

Every week we: write from a prompt, read what we just wrote, read something we’ve written during the week, receive comments on that piece and comment on a few stories that were handed out during the last workshop and we read in closer detail during the week.

All in two and a half hours.

There are eight writers in the workshop. On any given week a couple of people don’t come so she never knows how many people she’s going to be there.

And she changes the order of things every week too. Sometimes we read first, sometimes we write first, sometimes we comment first.

But at every single session, we end just as the clock chimes nine. That’s a figure of speech. The clock doesn’t really chime. That would be annoying.

I can’t figure out how she does it.

About 7:45, I look around and think “we’re never going to get through everything this week. We’re going to run out of time for sure.” But we never do.

This is not a skill I possess.

When I was younger I was both a Girl Scout day camp leader and a troop leader. I was still in high school and technically too young to lead a Brownie troop, but there was no one else to do it and so I stepped up. I think my mother was the leader on paper.

Every week, or every day in the case of the camp, I would carefully plan out our activities.

Thirty minutes for all the pledges, oaths and dues collection. An hour to make cat’s eyes out of popsicle sticks and yarn or a sit upon out of newspaper, contact paper and string. Another thirty minutes for a snack.

And every meeting we get done with all our activities and I’d look at the clock, expecting two hours to have passed, only to find there’s was still another fifty six minutes left in the meeting. Fifty six long minutes to fill until parents showed up to take their little Brownies home with them.

Have you ever had an unplanned hour with six and seven year olds? It’s painful.

For some reason groups of kids that young get bored listening to someone reading to them for an hour, which was always my first choice.

We played a lot of red light, green light and mother may I.

The problem plagued me when I started directing theater productions as an adult too.

I would plan rehearsals down the minute. Blocking for ninety minutes, character work for fifteen. Whatever.

But inevitably I would have under planned, or underestimated the talents and dedication of my amateur actors, and get through everything with time to spare.

I was always loathe to end rehearsal early. I didn’t want the actors to get in the habit of getting done early, to start to expect that we’d be done by 8 pm every time.

But I had one tool in my toolbox that I didn’t have when I was a scout leader. Theater games.

The beauty of theater games is that they always appear to have a purpose. And even if I didn’t say, “we’re playing this game so you can think about motivation” or “this game is about staying in the moment and listening to your fellow actors,” the actors always thought there was some greater purpose.

Or at least I hope they thought that. I hope they left wondering what the point of the game was and how it was part of the brilliant director’s grand scheme. I hope I fooled them into thinking I knew what I was doing.

And usually, even I was just filling time, the games were actually beneficial. It was always during a theater game that an actor would come out of her shell for the first time, or project enough to be heard or finally stop turning his back to the audience.

Part of the reason my planned activities never fill the time allotted is that I’m a condenser.

I always thought that I’d be really good at adapting books into the Readers Digest Condensed version. I love to cross out extra words.

One of the things I hate most is when people use fifty words when two would have done them just fine.

I’ve sat in meeting and when I think a person has made their point, I stop listening. I want to yell, “Stop.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a remote control and when someone in a meeting or party is going on and on, you could just hit the stop button? Or the mute button. Or the fast forward button. Any button that would shut them up.

And then there are the people who repeat themselves over and over again to make a point. I don’t care how many times you say, it doesn’t make your point more meaningful. In fact, it just makes me want to disregard your point all together

I’ve often thought the people who over-communicate in this way must be self-centered, that they just like to listen to themselves talk.

Of course, I go in the opposite direction and over-condense.

I’ll have a good story to tell. I’ll think about all the aspects of the story I want to include. I’ll start talking and boom, I’m done. I skip all the good details and cut right to the point, even when I know that the details are the good part, the things that actually make the story interesting.

I wonder if I did that with the Brownies and that’s why I always had so much extra time. Instead of explaining how to make the cat’s eyes in careful detail, I just said, “Do it.”

Not many of us find the balance between too many words or too few, too much time or too little. We’re either condensers or expanders and there’s not much we can do about it.


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