Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reducing Tension

My daughter Helen, who is in the third year of her studies as a music education major at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, recently told me about three challenges she had confronted when singing. First, her voice was not spinning sufficiently, meaning that she needed more vibrato in her notes. Second, her voice occasionally lacked an adequate level of intonation; in other words, she wasn’t entirely in tune on the flat and sharp notes. Finally, she needed better breath management to control her phrasing.

I asked, “How did you solve all three of those problems?”

“I reduced my neck tension,” she answered. “They all had to do with that one thing.”

Her succinct response immediately captured my imagination as a writing consultant. We often solve three problems at once by first discovering and then eliminating their cause. Reducing tension in writing is a great example. It would solve numerous problems, such as procrastination, writer’s block, and stress—all of which in their turn may lead to a lack of confidence, trouble with organizing ideas, and failure to submit reports on time.

So how can we eliminate tension? Chapter 2 (Planning) and Chapter 3 (Drafting) of The Art of On-the-Job Writing cover some of them in detail. First, we should look for the cause of the tension, which may be physical, psychological, environmental, or procedural. Physical sources include exhaustion from working long hours or from performing exceedingly difficult tasks. More obvious ones are incapacitation by an illness or from intoxication. Some psychological sources would be insecurity about one’s writing ability, distractions by pressing personal crises, or discontentment over the performance or attitudes of teammates, managers, clients, or vendors. Alternatively, when discomforted by intolerable room temperatures, poor lighting, or noise levels, or by ergonomic issues such as uncomfortable seating, we are contending with environmental sources. Even if we may not always be able to control these problems, we may have some success in dealing with them.

The procedural sources of tension, on the other hand, are well within our power to manage. If we do not employ the complete writing process—planning, drafting, and quality controlling—then we be unnecessarily contributing to our tension. Here are two quick tips, which are explained in greater depth in The Art of On-the-Job Writing:

  1. Plan before drafting. Tension may be the result of not knowing what to say. Planning by creating an outline, sketching out ideas, or simply listing ideas may synchronize the hands with the brain to make those fingers fly across the keyboard.
  2. Draft before quality controlling. Write a first draft without looking for perfection. Just write with your heart, not with your head. You can always go back and remedy those awkward phrases and imperfect word choices when quality controlling.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: http://firstbooks.com/shop/shopexd.asp?id=144