What do you do when you’ve started writing a letter, an article, a speech, a blog post—or begun almost anything creative—and you’re having trouble choosing between several different directions to go with it? Sound familiar?
Each direction could work, you think. But you’re stuck trying to decide which one. Well, you might try a simple technique that worked for Paul McCartney when he was trying to finish a song for The Beatles.
McCartney sometimes couldn’t decide on the lyrics for a piece of music he’d written. Should the lyrics be about X, Y, or Z? (Leaving his lover? Reuniting with his lover? Finding a new lover?) But instead of staying stuck, McCartney would immediately explore the different possibilities. He would write complete sets of lyrics for each, and then choose which one worked best.
Peter Asher—a member of the '60s pop duo, Peter & Gordon, and producer of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt—revealed this McCartney trick to me, years after closely watching Paul write songs while they lived together at the Asher residence in London in the days of Beatlemania. (At the time Paul was dating Peter’s sister—actress Jane Asher.)
In the case of one McCartney song from the Rubber Soul album—“I’m Looking Through You” (written about Jane Asher)—Peter remembered the time McCartney had completed the melody and chords to the song, and had written most of the words. But Paul wasn’t sure where to take the lyrics in the “bridge” section. (A bridge is usually eight bars in the middle of a tune which provides a musical and lyrical contrast to the rest of the song.) But rather than stop his songwriting momentum while he was on a roll, McCartney plowed ahead and wrote two different sets of lyrics for the bridge. Afterwards he settled on the one he liked better: “Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.”
Ok, this may not be a bombshell epiphany for you. It’s probably something you’ve done on occasion without even realizing it. But maybe now you can do it deliberately, without wasting time trying to pick what direction to take. Try both (or three or four) directions. Then decide.
In business this works great for completing that talk or slide presentation you’ve started to prepare — or that difficult conversation you’re planning to have with a colleague.
This, by the way, is how I write these blog posts when I can see them going in many possible directions. I follow each one through, then pick the best. (The next time you’re traversing parallel worlds in the Omniverse you can read another version of this same post in which I discuss how McCartney wrote “Yesterday.”)