Don’t Stop Before the Work is Done

Lone Girl


This is the third post in the series about Emma Coats at Pixar, and her rules for great writing.

Last year she tweeted twenty-two guidelines for building story structure.

Those rules spread everywhere and now they’re ours.

Here’s RULE #3:


When it comes to writing anything, this statement is so true for me. Sometimes I start an idea, outline it, or just begin writing and BOOM, I end up with an entirely different animal. When the story starts creating itself, when dialogue comes from someplace beyond me and I’m just typing, the experience becomes magical.

Then I’ll read what I wrote and discover all kinds of things I didn’t know before, or thought I didn’t – stuff that bubbles up from the subconscious, long forgotten memories or feelings I had put to bed on my tenth birthday.

Actors talk about revelations when their characters take over. I’ve felt like a different musician when I break new ground, gliding over my drums complex sticking patterns I could never get right before.

Where did Bob Dylan get those early lyrics? He has no idea. He said so.

This kind of “channeled” creativity isn’t limited to artists or art. “Ah hah!” moments happen with every leap of human evolution.

So what does this mean? It means that creative discovery can happen and does happen, but we have to finish the race to let it pop. Short takeoffs don’t get us off the ground.


Emma’s Rule Three for WRITING reminds me of three rules for LIVING.

1. Don’t jump to conclusions about what you’re watching. Give it time to play out, getting as much information as you can about the players and their game. Then re-evaluate your assumptions.

2. You may have goals but where life takes you may be a very different place. Look at it for what it is, not what you wanted it to be. Then build on it from there.

3. Most of the time we’re fretting about things that have yet to happen…if they ever do! Live in the present. Accept happiness as you get it.

You people are smart. I’m telling you things you already know. But as I always state, it’s good to be reminded about practical ways of getting through the day. (I need reminding!)

So boiling this down: We shouldn’t make premature judgments. Most of the time they’re wrong.


I make judgments prematurely and sometimes that hurts people. And sometimes, by worrying about things that have yet to happen, I hurt myself.

The “myself” part I can contain and correct. But the “hurting others” part really bothers me ‘cause once it’s done, it’s done. Here’s an example.

I have a close friend at work. She’s the office manager of the department and her name is Suzanne. Suzanne is single, attractive, a mother and very kind. She’s also sensitive, introspective and defensive. She doesn’t trust many people, especially men. Her past is riddled with betrayals.

I’m honored to be a member of Suzanne’s “invited” list. When I visit her in the front office, when she has time between calls and the zillion things she has to do, we talk.

We talk about the deepest things. We talk about Suzanne’s secrets and her regrets. And we talk about mine, all in five minutes.

Last week I blogged about SecretRegrets.com, a site devoted to online confessions. A few days ago a woman wrote that she regretted hurting the people she loved and that she had to break off all relations with them. For THEIR benefit, she said, not her own. Then she wrote that she hopes someday her friends and family would understand why she ran away.

Well, I did not understand, and I left an accusatory comment which now I regret.

I wrote that she was manipulating her family and friends for validation by forcing them to beg for her return. If she really felt remorse for actions in the past, she would be righting those wrongs by doing nice things for the people she bruised. I wrote that she was dodging responsibilities.

Though another commenter agreed with my analysis, I felt uncomfortable about my judgment as soon as I clicked SEND. I wasn’t sure why. Now I know why, having talked with Suzanne again.

My office friend breaks all connections the moment she leaves her desk. At 6:01 PM she takes no calls or reads emails. Even I am denied access to her life away from work. And for the last few months I’ve been thinking, I have a friend who’s only a friend when she can squeeze out five minutes between deadlines.

Yesterday I told Suzanne that her life’s choices don’t leave room for real friendships. I reminded her that my wife and I have invited her for dinner more than once and she turned us down.

Suzanne listened and explained why she does what she does and I listened. Then she thanked me for understanding, because now I do.

And I’m also wondering could the woman of Secret Regrets also be isolating herself for the same reasons? Had I jumped the gun, looking at a stranger’s situation from only one point of view – mine? Had I failed to apply Emma’s Rule #3?

Suzanne explained that she’s deep into an introspective transformation, and that she needs to be alone so there’s only one person to face – herself. She’s soul searching and she’s not happy about what she found. She’s judgmental, she said, more so than she thought, and she wants to know why. She told me she lost trust in humanity and she wants to get it back and love again.

But to do that she needs isolation. She needs time to think, which she can’t do at work. Suzanne is applying Emma’s Rule #3. She is reworking the way she perceives her world. She’s rewriting and reading her new story because the old one made her sad.

I know what it’s like to want alone time. When I write, I need isolation, leaving space for creative discoveries.

And I also need to be more like Suzanne and my wife, dropping the judgments before I know what’s really going on.

So as I’ve said before, we’re all writers whether we drop a word onto paper or not. We’re the authors of our world and it changes constantly. That’s why Emma’s Rule #3 is so important.

…you won’t see what the story is actually about ‘til you’re at the end of it.



Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.


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