An Agent and His Notebooks
Dave Wirtschafter - President, William Morris Agency
(FORTUNE Magazine) – I usually get up early, around 5 A.M. I do some of my best thinking in the morning. That's the time I like to work on deals, or I'll go to breakfast at the 17th Street Cafe and read a script. My days are filled with meetings and conference calls, so I appreciate that time in the morning when I can choose what to address.
I have a BlackBerry, which I use all the time. Often I am on it even when I'm in the office with my computer. Its small screen acts as an automatic mental funnel of sorts. However, I do believe in writing down anything important by hand. I've always felt that the exercise of writing something makes me pay closer attention to it. I don't know whether it's staring at a piece of paper or the physical exercise of moving the pen. Whatever it is, the information seems to really stay in my head and make me more focused.
I do my writing in three notebooks. Each has a purpose. If there's something I'm just starting to think about--for instance, we are going to try to make a deal for a client to direct a movie--it goes in the first one, the beginning notebook, which is more or less a short-term reference notebook. The second notebook is about my work process, stemming from that initial idea I jotted in the first one. If there's a very long negotiation, one that takes six months, there will be six months' worth of entries about that. The third notebook is about the conclusions of the things in the other two books--the last pieces, the final thoughts, the last idea. That's where the stuff that's bigger and more complex resides. It's also a book that has a longer lifespan. It's a blue notebook, and I've had it for more than ten years.
I watched an episode of The Sopranos last week, and Tony Soprano was saying in a dream sequence that his life was in a briefcase. I wouldn't necessarily go that far about the blue notebook, but certainly the work that has required the most thought is in it. Sometimes deals you've done long ago have great relevance in the present. But unless you have something that jogs your memory, you can forget them.
Besides phone calls and e-mails, the traffic through our offices makes for a sometimes frenetic workday. And with all that, there often is work that requires a great deal of focus and concentration that you can't afford to have lost in the shuffle, so my writing becomes almost a focusing mechanism as much as anything else. It just keeps me really on point.