I kicked my songwriting up a notch as I was getting into proposal writing, back in 2006. At that time, I was writing music for this Hummingbird album. You can now find this on Amazon, Spotify, and a couple other places as well. I've long since lost track of the sales.
I can tell you that I much prefer writing music to proposals. But that should be obvious, and is somewhat beside the point. The question here is if songwriting and proposal writing have anything in common. They do.
Knowing the elements. Writing music often comes in a mixture of hard work and inspiration. The hard work is mastering the elements of composition. These are keys, meters, time signatures, notes, rhythms, dynamics, melodies, harmonies, and other components. If you don't know how to navigate these elements, you'll falter in composing songs.
This is also true of proposals. If you don't know how to create the elements of a great proposal, your offer will fall short. Those elements are Story, System, and Style. We discuss them at great length in our book Goddamned Good Proposals.
Discipline, imagination, collaboration. Beyond elements, the inspiration of writing music comes from discipline and imagination. Composition takes time, concentration, and an openness to new ideas. This may not be true for every composer, but it's true for me.
To write music, I need to sit alone, open up and relax, and focus my attention on the task at hand. Creating requires working elements into new combinations of sounds and tempos and melodies. It demands a lot of trial and error and experimentation. I have to work with others to record this music. Their instrumentation, talent, and voices play a critical role in how it sounds.
There may be a solo genius or two out there somewhere who can create and play ensembles of music by themselves. These individuals are few and far between though. Most great music takes the contribution of many people. They come with diverse backgrounds, yet all speak the same language.
Proposal writing is similar. It demands time, creativity, and collaboration. People must work together to create something that exceeds their individual capability. Each one has a place, a voice, and something to contribute.
Appropriate skill. Even together, elements and inspiration don't produce great music. When writing and performing, the skill level of all musicians has to match the music. If someone doesn't know the notes, can't get in the groove, or won't work with others, the piece will fail. It may be possible to carry an under-performer for a song or a gig. Yet, anyone can tell when something goes wrong. The wrong note, playing out of rhythm, singing in the wrong key - these all bring down the band. It's obvious.
In the same way, a successful proposal effort requires a team working at the same level of skill. Writers, engineers, managers, executives all need to be capable, aligned, and on point. Otherwise, when deadlines start to hit you have one or two people making up for the mistakes of others. And no one likes doing that.
Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it takes a minute. Putting the elements of music together with inspiration and skill takes time. I've written songs in 5 minutes. Other songs have taken a couple months or even years to write. Some of the material comes easily. Some of it takes learning. I can hear what I want to play, but I can't perform it technically.
This is where discipline and imagination come into play. I'll sit down to write, make it halfway through a song, and realize I don't have anything left to say. Or, I'm not sure what note or chord to move to next. Over time, I keep working on a piece here and there, or with steady perseverance.
I've got songs I still haven't completed yet. In fact, I have 112 piano sketches on my iPhone waiting to evolve into finished music. Sometimes it takes a while to write a song. Sometimes it doesn't.
Proposal writing can be similar. You hit the mark straight out of the gate and write a volume in a couple days; sometimes the technical message takes months of work. And at times, a writer doesn't have a choice. The deadline is tomorrow.
All this is to say that composing music and writing proposals have a lot in common. Each takes time, knowledge, discipline, imagination, effort, persistence, skill, and collaboration. A writer has to be a master open to critique and the contribution of others. We don't live in a vacuum. And you can't write proposals in one. (Although, that brings to mind a funny picture. Imagine a miniature person whose office is in the dust bag of a Hoover vacuum.)
Anyhow, I'll leave off where I started. It's much more fun to write music. But, if you have to write proposals, here are a few tips.
Find a skilled writer, one who is expert in listening and taking down ideas. Let this person be creative and ensure they know how to work with teams. When you hire for writing, look for someone who gets the key elements - story, system, and style. Make sure they can gather, organize, develop, and articulate ideas. These are the key skills. They are like the skills a reporter needs.
And, finally, make sure they can work well within different time frames and constraints. When you find this writer (and they are hard to find!), make sure your team can work with them to tell your story.
If you need help writing proposals, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or a DM on Twitter @qocreate. We're happy to be the writers for you. And who knows, we may even make music together.