Want a New Perspective on Your Work? Change the Context.

Judgment is about taking stock.


In his short book on film editing, In The Blink Of An Eye, Walter Murch says this about test screenings:

“The most helpful thing of all is simply learning how you feel when the film is being shown to 600 people who have never seen it before.”

in the blink of an eye book

When he shows a film for the first time, he isn’t much interested in what the audience thinks about the film itself—the plot, the characters, the special effects. He’s much more interested in what he himself thinks as he watches the audience watch the film for the first time. In this new context of a large screening, he’s able to “see” weaknesses and strengths of his work that weren’t apparent in the studio the day before.

One of the challenges of the creative process is isolation. You spend all this time in your studio writing something, or editing, or building, or coding—cut off from the outside world. And because you’ve been so intimately involved with the creation of the work, it’s nearly impossible to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to imagine what they might think. You need some way to force that perspective.

notebook

Unlike Murch, I don’t have 600 people on call to review my work while I review them reviewing it. But, I don’t necessarily need them. There are dozens of smaller (and cheaper) ways to gain that outsider perspective, and it all starts by putting the work into a different context. Literally.

For example, if I’m writing a radio commercial and feel close to done, I’ll print it out, go into the conference room by myself, and read it out loud. Being in the space where I’ll ultimately present the script to the client tricks my brain. That reading has much more weight than the one I did at my desk just a minute ago. I can begin to imagine what the client might say in response. I’ll notice little flaws or ways to strengthen my work just by reading my writing in a different place.

Or if I’m writing headlines for a billboard, I’ll paste the best ones into an email and type my boss’s address into the “to” field. They’re the same exact words that were in a Google Doc just seconds before, but this new context immediately puts his voice into my ear. I can visualize him opening the email, reviewing my work, and giving feedback. If it’s positive, I press send. If it’s negative, I delete the email and try again.

To be fair, Walter Murch doesn’t always have 600 reviewers at his disposal either. And so he too  finds creative ways to put his work in new contexts. Like this one:

“[C]ut out two little paper figures and place them on either side of the monitor screen, making them the correct size in relationship to the screen as real human beings will be when the film is finally projected in the theater…You don’t think it would amount to much, but this practice helps tremendously in solving problems before they occur.”

walter murch context

To get a different perspective on your work, you don’t need an editor, reviewer, or audience. All you need is a new context.


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