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Last week, I had a great brunch with a great friend. There was chicken and waffles, special family recipe egg rolls, and bottomless mimosas. Trust me, we tried for three hours to find the end of those glasses. Anyway, after such a splendid experience because of the hard work of a wonderful chef/host, I felt compelled to write a review. I wanted to show my appreciation to the world and encourage others to visit the restaurant. I wanted to use my words to help a friend.
Last week, a professor asked my graduate student cohort to help him proofread a book chapter he’s sending off for publication. Time crept up on him (as it does to all of us) and he was up against a deadline. He needed help. So I did what I could to review his chapter and find any typos I could. I put my editor hat on because I knew that he would do and has done the same for in the brief time I’ve known him. I wanted to use my words to help a colleague.
Last week, I felt conflicted about a decision I made. In a moment of desire and excitement and maybe love, I crossed a line. I didn’t know if the line was worth crossing, if the new territory I was exploring was dangerous, if what I was doing would cause more harm than good, if I were sacrificing something beautiful for the hope of more, if I were acting from a place of greed and selfishness or a place of joy and care. So I wrote these words. And before these words I wrote notes on my phone and in my journal and on random scraps of paper at my desk day after day.
I wanted to use my words to help myself.
This week’s post is about maintaining “focus” as a writer. When I think of focus, I think of the kind of discipline and concentration required in martial arts. But, to be honest, I’m not a disciplined writer. I don’t have a set schedule, I don’t have a routine, and I don’t write as much as I should. But there’s another way to think about focus that is very important to consider. Let’s think about focus in terms of vision and re-vision.
The thing that most people need to work on is seeing themselves as a writer and viewing the world as a story that needs to be told. So the first step in maintaining focus is learning to see in a way that might feel a bit different. The first step is opening your eyes to the dramas and conflicts and decisions and issues that surround you on the daily. Learn to see yourself and your world for what it is–lyric and narrative.
The second step is to see the writing that you do all the time. The three examples I started this post with seem like the everyday for me…and it’s because they are. We all have writing practices that we engage in regularly, it’s just a matter of realizing these and appreciating them. Part of this step is also to try and discover your underlying motivation for writing. For me, the theme became apparent when I put those three separate writing activities together on the page. I write to help people. I write praise and love and health and joy. I write to build things, to fix things, to beautify and worship things. So, you have to ask yourself why before you ask how.
Maybe you write poems about pretty flowers. That’s great. But why do you do it? Is it like taking a photograph? Do you write the poem as a way to keep that flower forever? Or is it more like a postcard? Do you write that flower down to share it with someone who couldn’t be there to see it with you? Maybe you write the flower so you can focus on something beautiful and distract yourself from all the ugly things in the world. Maybe you don’t write about flowers at all and I sound like an idiot right now. But whatever you write has an underlying reason or assumption or ideology that you bring to it–you can’t be afraid to ask what those are.
Your answer is all your own, but it’s something worth paying attention to. How can you see yourself as a writer if you don’t examine why you want to write? How can you develop good habits and discipline for your craft if you don’t know your purpose and position?
So what’s my advice? Listen to yourself. See yourself. Know that every time you send a text or scribble a grocery list or reply to a Facebook post, you’re performing the identity of a writer. Know that most of these activities could stem from some foundational motivations you carry around with you in your life. If you can figure those out, you can see your work more clearly and look at the story of our world with fresh eyes.
My impression of maintaining focus is more akin to maintaining balance. A writer’s job these days is much more than just writing. There is a heavy emphasis on the business end as well as the writing end.
Case in point came to light this week as I was preparing for our first book signing engagement. For the past two weeks we have prepared for TV appearances and radio interviews as well as contributing to magazine and blog articles to promote the event. In addition, we were introducing our book to six local libraries to further promote the book and make it available in the community.
While doing this, we still had social media and weekly blog responsibilities. These are ongoing and coupled with the day to day accounting and reporting duties make for a full day, without much time for writing, or for that matter, house tasks.
Oh, and I forgot, I needed to edit the first nineteen chapters of our second book during this period.
Now, I am a person who lives by the day planner. Always have. It’s my mental survival tool to keep me on track with daily activities. I run two other businesses and without it I would be paralyzed before 10:00 in the morning. But the thing that I love is something I learned a long time ago. List your ten priorities (no more,could be less) for the day and tackle each item on your list, one at a time until completion. Cool thing is, once you complete your ten tasks you are done for the day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 am or 7 pm, you’re done!
But, if you can’t finish, you simply add it to the next day. Believe it or not, this doesn’t happen often if you stay on task.
I know a lot of writers who write in the morning and do business in the afternoon. Some switch it up. There does have to be a discipline that you can stick to even when emergencies arise, but with my system I seem to have a lot more time and a lot less stress.
By the way, the book signing and interviews, although hectic, were a lot of fun and all went smoothly due to a well-planned event and proper time in promotion. We, as writers, have to realize that our job entails much more than just writing and it’s up to us whether or not we have fun or are running around at the last minute like chickens with our heads cut off. We can’t expect to have others do it for us, so stay organized and balance your day and your life. Breathe!
A friend of mine once told me that we get what we expect and inspect, so stay on top of both your writing and your business.