You’ve probably heard the term Elevator Pitch. According to Wikipedia, it’s “a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization… [and] should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.”
At one Goddard College graduate residency we played on this idea in a getting-to-know-you exercise. We had to walk across the room and tell someone in about 30 seconds with no prep what questions we were researching (Goddard’s Individualized MA program is all independent study). It was very helpful for me to have to summarize the myriad ideas I was looking into and state my one main point of query. One year and much research and writing later, I find I need to do this again. The Elevator Pitch for both my research and my memoir synopsis is rambling around in my head and has become more of an “… and Into the Lobby and out onto the Sidewalk Pitch.”
It recounts the League’s recent Writers Meet Agents Event at its biennial conference in Burlington, where wannabe authors pitched their ideas to literary agents in a kind of “speed dating” process. Just reading about this made my stomach turn. I immediately thought, “What on earth would I say (without coming across as a bumbling idiot)???”
Time to get out my journal.
Here’s how one way to focus your ideas, not just for others to understand exactly what it is you do all day, but, maybe more importantly, for you to focus. It gives you a way to gather the harvest of fresh imaginings, colorful memories and juicy research nibblets, and then single out what you need to make the tonight’s dinner (i.e. book, essay, project, etc.).
1. Write down ALL your ideas, angles/layers, questions or descriptions of your project.
Write them in no particular order. Maybe mind-map them. Draw lines between connected concepts. (A huge piece of paper and colored pens might come in useful.) (And, warning! Whole new connections and ideas may arise while doing this.)
2. Circle or make a list of which words, phrases or themes come up most often.
Put the top ranked word/theme (or top two or three, if they are close) at the top of a blank page.
3. Just write!
Start with a prompt such as, “My book is about…” “I am studying…” “The premise of my thesis…” “The theme of my memoir is…,” and free write non-stop for five minutes (don’t stop even if it means writing in ums and ahhhs or oh crap, I have no idea what I’m writing-s!) However, you may find that after mind-mapping all your ideas, your writing flows easier.
4. Chop. Dice. Boil down. Spice up.
Re-write until you have two or three sentences that concisely, creatively, and above all, passionately describe what you are writing (but please leave out the adverbs!).
5. Say it out loud.
Read what you’ve written and then practice saying it until it sounds natural, as if you have such complete and utter clarity about your work (which you do now, right?) that you are just able to reel it off without thinking. Time yourself to make sure it is within the thirty second to two minute range.
6. P.S. This technique doesn’t have to apply to just writing.
Think Personal Mission Statements. Artist Statements. Life choices even. (You don’t need to end up with blurb/pitch for this one unless you want to, but the process of whittling down options can still be used.) Whenever you have a sense of confusion, overwhelm, and/or lack of clarity, get it ALL on paper and let the pen do its magic.