On the popular TV show, Mythbusters, hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted to prove or disprove the myth: “You can’t polish poop” (Episode 113: End with a Bang; Air Date: November 12, 2008). Using a variety of feces from the local zoo as source material, they tried different techniques in their attempt to buff the spheres to a high finish. After several failures, they found an outside expert who taught them a different approach that eventually worked. The dirt-polishing technique is called dorodango and is considered more than a craft, but a way to focus the mind and spirit, learn patience, and pursue perfection.
As an author and coach, I am always on the lookout for fresh ways to convey writing concepts and processes in an attempt to spark greater creative thinking. In my view, dorodango holds untapped potential for writing parallels and brings the added benefit of humor.
A quick search on the Web provides several likely sources of information to learn the art of dorodango. The steps are defined, the process can be tedious, and the result can be astonishingly attractive (or a mushy, dull mess). Sounds like the writing process to me!
- Gather and Prepare Quality Resources
Find a good source of mud, or make your own with ordinary dirt and water. Remove debris (rocks, twigs, leaves, grass, insects, etc.) and sift the dirt to remove clumps.
Quality ingredients make for a better product. Good writing requires thorough preparations. Identifying, gathering, sifting, organizing, and preparing relevant data during the preparation stage saves time later and allows more time to shine up the product. Take the time early to define and select the information you will need.
Organize the data into logical subsets based upon content. Use a simple, straightforward template for the draft document. Ignore special formatting during the early writing. Sift out the weaker elements for action to improve or discard. If discarding, determine if additional content needs to be collected to fill gaps.
- Begin Building
Get a good sized glob of mud in your hand, squeeze out the water, and form it into a sphere.
Effective writing follows structured, repeatable processes. Build your story on a solid outline as core framework. Once built, grab your previously gathered data and put some of it into the rough outline to see how it initially shapes up. Some adjustment may be necessary to work out some finer details in structure and flow.
Add some dry dirt to the outside of the ball, and continue shaping it into a sphere.
Brainstorming and storyboarding are the equivalent of adding the layers of dirt to the core. Try adding more content to the structure and see how it measures up. Does it make sense? Is it logical? The goal is a shiny sphere. Will this blob eventually have the right shape? Will it ever hold a shine? If not, try a different tack.
Allow the sphere some time to dry somewhat, and then pack it solidly with your hands, while rubbing the surface to raise a gloss.
Pause content development and let it settle in your mind. Come back to it after a brief hiatus and look with fresh eyes. Get external validation of the trajectory of ideas before launching into full writing mode. Have someone look over your concept and provide direct feedback. Circulate an early draft to a writing peer group and listen to their constructive ideas.
- The Polishing Process
Pat your hands on the ground to pick up powdery dirt, and continue patting and rubbing your sphere. Continue doing this for two hours (yep…I said two hours).
This is the essence of the art and craft of dorodango. You’ll need persistence and patience to make a finished product, along with practice to develop and refine your technique.
Making a shiny ball of dirt is tedious, so it can feel with writing. Add a little, revise it, edit it and repeat. Interim reviews of sections may be needed to monitor or prod the development of content. Approaching deadlines at first seem so far away and yet accelerate as the time grows shorter. Beyond simple formatting and spell checking, the author has the potential to take the written text from good to great, given enough time. The assistance of a good editor can go a long way to improving the writing as well.
- Review and Repeat Cycles
Put the ball in a plastic bag for 3-4 hours. Remove the sphere, and repeat step 3 (above). Replace the ball in a plastic bag for some time.
Freeze the documents during each review cycle. In a perfect scenario, writers should stop at the designated deadline, release their files to the editor, take a break, and await feedback. In actual practice, there are times when writers have fallen behind planned document maturity for whatever reason and need every spare moment to continue writing.
Peer reviews. A thorough review by others not engaged in the writing is vital to the polishing process. Reviewers should be strategically selected to provide external perspective, subject matter expertise, and reader viewpoint. Allow sufficient time for reviewers to digest materials for the review. Pre-brief the reviewers to target their attention to specific areas of the writing where help is required.
Repeat as necessary. If the first review was a disaster, consider a second review. Have the reviewers actively engage with you to strengthen content.
- Final Preparations and Finished Product
Remove the ball again. If it is dry, then take a cloth and polish it to a high shine.
Preserve time between the last review and planned production to tweak the document to excellence. Proofread carefully, verify graphics, and validate the changes well before the delivery deadline. Writers often underestimate the amount of time required to polish the final documents. The longer the document, the longer the time required to finalize.
Old authors tell the horror stories of the late nights, last-minute, time-crunched, and rushed deliveries requiring almost superhuman efforts to push the writing into the publisher’s inbox with seconds to spare. There is no need for this. We are the professionals. Just like the Mythbusters needed help to succeed, authors need to apply discipline and professionalism. Work backwards from the submission date. Make a hard internal lockdown date for submission to the editor. Allow them sufficient time to buff the documents to a high shine before production and delivery. Set your peer reviews back from that lockdown date and resist all attempts to budge. After a few attempts, most authors can adapt to such schedules and resistance diminishes. With practice, the final product of each written work should improve.