I do talk about this in my book, The Blank Screen: Productivity for Creative Writers but I’ve just now, this minute, had to put it into use for a new reason. When you want something and you’re emailing somebody to get it, say so right at the top. Line one.
The reason I give in the book is that we’ve all had emails where we’ve wondered what in the hell this person wants. And when they do that very British thing of working up to the point by reminding you who they are, how we met, how, gosh, you said some day you could send me something, maybe, hello, it has an unintended effect. I read all this about that time we met in ‘Nam, how we stole a taxi together in Saigon and wrote Les Mis 2 together and as it goes on, as it gets ever more specific, I can’t help but worry. This is going to be big, I think. This is going to be really serious. This may be trouble.
But there is also the fact that saying what you want right at the start is a difficult writing task. Especially today. I had to write to my agent with all sorts of issues. All good, you understand, but just the sheer volume of things to discuss about new projects, things I want him to do, things I should’ve told him I’d already done.
The more I thought about it, the more I could think of other issues I needed to cover. It’s fine to think I should pick one and only email about that, leave the rest to another day but this is a real job and a real email about a real thing. Anything like stripping it down would be a correct writing exercise but not what he or I needed. Too much, too intertwined, too complicated.
So I started with line one. What I want.
There is always something that you want most, there is always something that you want first. So I wrote that down.
And having written it, every single other thing fell into place. It turned out to be what I call a three-biscuit email (it’ll take him those and some tea to work through the things in it) but as a reader today he will fly through the email and know exactly what is going on and exactly what I’m after.
Because I spent so long thinking about the first line, the rest of the email poured out of me in a flash.
It’s a big deal for me, it’s a complicated subject, but wallop, that email is done and I’m on to the next thing. Specifically I’m on to talking to you. And now I’ll just pop off to get some breakfast. I’m starving and saying all that about biscuits did not improve things.