I just read an interview the other day where Francis Ford Coppola talks about the process he goes through when he’s adapting a novel for the screen. The first time he reads a novel he sits down with a pencil and makes notes directly to the book. He only writes notes on pages where he feels some kind of important emotion or feeling that gets his attention. He writes down everything that comes to mind in conjunction with the feelings directly in the margins of the book. When he’s finished if he thinks the book is one he would like to adapt for a movie he tears out just those pages that have notes on them because as he explains, a book often has many more details, characters, and scenes than can be captured in film format. So in this way the parts which are superfluous to making a great film fall away organically and he is left with the elements that are critical to telling the story.
This description of Coppola’s creative process was so interesting to me because like so many great ideas it seems so obvious once you hear it, yet I would not have thought to approach it that way. Editing out the parts and characters that do not contribute to the emotional core of the story is turned into a natural process made more effective because the decisions are made with the heart and head instead of just with the head.
How could this approach be looked at in the larger context of how to craft a good life for oneself?
We face hundreds of decisions every day and millions within our lifetime about who to spend time with and what to spend our time on. Just as a big novel is to a film, the world offers us infinitely more options than a single life can accommodate without becoming a jumbled montage and leaving us feeling frantic and unsatisfied. I love the idea of options but vetting out which one’s contribute the most to our lives and which are mere distractions is critical to crafting the life you want. Every time we make a decision about how to spend our time can seem unimportant but these decisions add up to the filmstrip that is our lives.
As Lucius Seneca the Roman philosopher said “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.”
What if we were to examine the various things that we do each day, collect them in a book with a single line describing the activity and the emotion experienced before, during, and after to get some measurement as to whether or not the activity does really add to the story of our lives or not? For instance, before I had a child I used to like to spend hours window shopping. After becoming a mother this pastime was at first cutback out of necessity because of a lack of time, but then I realized that when I did go out to do some shopping that it wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as I had remembered. Even more interesting was that I realized that the activity wasn’t fulfilling back then either it was simply that I thought I had more time to squander. Pre child the window shopping was simply using up time that I was being unproductive with but now it felt like much more of a waste of precious time. Realize that I am not saying that all leisure activities are unproductive or a waste of time, they aren’t. The only activities that are a waste of time are those that when you look at them closely and you think of your time as precious, and it always is, you would cut back or no longer do.
So the next time you get to decide how you will spend a free evening or an afternoon try looking at the activities you are choosing through this lens.
Time is precious, you can’t get it back, and you never know how much of it you are going to get. Spend it on the good stuff.
*** Visit the infinitely readable 99Percent blog to check out the full post Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration