Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


Ways to Procrastinate

This week is week number nine at Salt, the Big Week for writers. The week we write the first draft of our main documentary project. The week our schedule is wiped clear; in fact, writers have no classes at all this week. This week is all about the writing.

Leading up to number nine, we've been in the field, collecting interviews and observations. In the classroom, we've workshopped several different writing assignments and analyzed our field experiences. The idea is that all that preparation will lead to a productive, focused week of work.

The thing is, writing can be painful. Frustrating. Slow. Solitary. It makes your butt hurt and your eyes cross as you spend hours sitting in front of a computer screen. It also makes you realize all the questions you haven't asked, the important research yet to be done.

I myself am a master procrastinator, and figured I could use this week to get all the other things on my to-do list done. So far, I've browsed a few shoe stores, checked out some new restaurants, cleaned out my email inbox, organized my Internet bookmarks, paid library fines, called long-lost friends and scheduled a haircut appointment. But I have yet to open a Word document and start typing.
This morning I figured what I really needed was a long, meditative walk and, happily, this also satisfied the "exercise" notation on my to-do list. So I went to the Presumpscot River Trail, just a few miles away from Salt. It was a sunny fall day, the river was running fast, and I tramped over trails blanketed in drifts of fallen leaves. I sat on a rock and stared at the water, knowing that at some point today, I would have to sit down and start writing.

I've talked to other writers this week, and we're all worried about the same things. How do we sift through weeks of accumulated information and choose what to include in our story? How do we distill this information into a coherent, compelling narrative arc? How do we pull readers through our stories and keep them with us until the very end? And, how are we going to find time to devote to our second, shorter story that we pitched last week?

The first draft is a large task, and one that we all care a great deal about doing well. We also feel a sense of responsibility to our subjects, to telling their stories with respect but also with an unflinching eye.

In the coming weeks, this first draft will be re-written, critiqued, analyzed, maybe even abandoned. We will all need to be reassured when the frustrations of the writing process get overwhelming that out stories don't, in fact, suck. On the contrary, I can tell you right now that everyone has found stories that are gripping, intriguing and revelatory. Stories that should be told.

So now I've cleared my to-do list (including "contribute to Salt blog") and the only thing left is "write draft". Such innocuous, yet weighty words.

I guess I should go get started.

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