About Focus, Passion, and Risk: Focus First

“Writers write.” Who said that? Flannery O’Connor or Stephen King? I can’t remember, but the veracity of the statement cannot be challenged. No words on paper: no tome.

The better question might be, “How do writers manage to write in REAL LIFE?” How do they come up with a steady stream of sentences, paragraphs, story beats? Maybe some are born with enough talent and drive to block out the temptations of the Friday morning Sudoku, but for most of us, the world is full of enticements, obligations, distractions, and bicyclists smashing into trashcans, pounding on doors to harass owners about city-dictated trashcan placement. These intrusions challenge our ability to meet writing goals, but retaining focus, an outlined plan to commit to writing, helps us remain in office chairs, fingers flitting over keys, heads hunched toward screens.

But how can I ignore husband, kids, friends? Don’t I need to exercise, shop for healthy food? Stay up on the election news? Clean up after my 15-year-old Labrador? Do I have to skip Project Runway, American Idol, Without A Trace?

It’s a balance, and focusing on that balance leads to symbiotic interplay between the two. In other words, pay off.

Family? Friends? We have to have them. Can’t really live–or write–without them and all those obnoxious, needy, freeway-jamming, gum-chewing, rude and crude other people too. They are our characters, and the subsequent drama of their–and our–tangled relationships provide us with themes and plots. So letting people muddy up our lives? Gotta happen.

Then there’s the issue of health, exercise, brushing teeth, and that no sugar rule. And the need to refill Julia Cameron’s proverbial well with sunny days of rebelling against routine and late nights devoted to deep substantial reading. Plots build themselves on early morning walks, scene by scene, block by block. “To Build a Fire” gave birth to my story “Richie’s Last Shot” and The Red Tent to “Honeymoon at the Oasis Hotel.” Are these distractions or assets? Both.

As for the news, election or not, jury duty, the media, the Lakers, pop culture, and the biggest distraction: TV? Acts of living can shatter anyone’s focus, but while they confuse us, they provide us with insights, while they frustrate us, they bring us understanding, while they subject us to banality and routine, they teach us the rhythm of patterns. These lessons, in turn, gift us with material from which we pull universal truths, the heart of good writing.

Awareness of how REAL LIFE devours both our time and our passion is all-important. The solution is deciding to do something about it–Plan. Follow through. Rejoice. And accept the idea that spending time in the act of writing is a blessing.

I used to believe that “having talent” meant writers were born, not made, and were compelled to write day and night. With no effort on their part, they could separate themselves from what other people wanted them to do and instead, blissfully compose epic novels. That certainly wasn’t me. I had tasks to do at home, sometimes a job, demands of family, obligations to others. Since I was overwhelmed by RL, I wrote sporadically, fitfully, so I couldn’t have been “born to write.” I took this logic another step: “Not born to write” must mean I have no talent. I let this idea defeat me. Since I struggled to overcome distractions to writing, I must not have been born to write. If I was, I would let nothing stand in my way.

I don’t believe this anymore. People who want to write eventually figure out some way to navigate the obstacles. They will find a balance. Writing is a choice. And choice demands focus–and action. After all, writers write.

1 thought on “About Focus, Passion, and Risk: Focus First

  1. Jane

    Are you OKAY? Letting a little thing like the elections interfere with writing? That means you have been watching the news and that is SO not like you, sis! But I like it! And you do realize that we are going to be in D.C. – two weeks before the election in a room filled with rabid liberals and conservatives. I love my nephew and wouldn’t miss his happy day for anything, but I think I prefer being in Italy for presidential elections. At least when I was there during the last one none of the Italians really cared.


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