Focus is a concept I’ve looked at lately. I’ve asked myself a number of questions. Where should I put my focus? Why don’t I automatically know what it should be? Why do I change my focus? How do I keep my focus where it should be?
I’ve been writing for a number of years now but came to writing relatively late in life. There are many reasons for that, the major one being lack of self-esteem. Sounds cliché, I suppose, but that’s the truth. I got into writing tentatively at first, writing as a solitary person without any writing friends, no writing groups, no real training in writing fiction.
Actually, the impetus for getting into writing was when my father died unexpectedly in 1997. I was working in a cubicle with a computer screen in front of me, as a systems analyst. Good money and I was good at my job but it was SO unfulfilling. I sometimes wondered what the point of life was and couldn’t understand why I had a lack of enthusiasm about much of anything. I walked through my days busying myself with everything around me. My job, my husband, our two daughters. I focused on everything but myself. Hmmmm. Codependent much? Oh yes, but that’s a different blog for a different blogging venue. My focus for this blog is writing, so…..I’ll try to stick to that.
I always wanted to write and kept telling myself things that stopped me. A biggie was that I didn’t have a good enough imagination. When my father died, I was so devastated and depressed that I sought grief counseling. In those sessions, I finally opened up about wanting to write. After months of counseling, I started writing.
At the time, my husband thought I’d lost my mind. So did my boss at work. I handed in my resignation but she asked me to keep on working several days a week while she found a replacement. That was a ruse, I realized, when six months later no one had replaced me. I was working three days a week and writing two. It wasn’t enough and I gave my boss two weeks notice and stuck to it. In leaving the cubicle world, I felt like I’d been released from prison.
After months of solitary writing, one day it occurred to me to take a writing class. Just a little one at the local arts center, once a week for six weeks. That little class helped changed my focus in a huge way. I met someone in the class who attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference and they encouraged me to try it. I did. From there it was off to the races. I loved the conference and couldn’t believe there were so many other people like me out there. I then attended other conferences and started joining writer’s groups and critique groups.
It practically became a frenzy for a while, as I tried to make up the gap of all those years of not writing. I decided to get my MFA in Creative Writing and got accepted into the low residency program at Goddard College in Vermont. It’s a two year program and if you’re interested, you can find out more by searching the internet. If I could do it all over again, I would. It was a magical two years.
After several years of attending the Philadelphia Writers Conference and getting to know the people who ran it, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. Who me? Really? I was thrilled. That was in 2003. In the first few years I went from member to second vice-president to first vice-president to president.
My focus widened and I continued to write and grow. Two places where I got stuck, although I didn’t realize it and/or didn’t want to face it, is in the areas of knowing when a book is finished and in getting my work out there. I’ve been extremely tentative in looking for an agent and/or publisher. And the idea that a book is finished and I don’t need to edit it again, well, that hasn’t happened.
I try not to beat myself up over it and try to focus on the fact that it’s a process. And my process is not someone else’s. I’m not a failure because I haven’t had a book published yet. I’m not a failure because I’m not sure I’m finished with a novel.
In the past my areas of focus have not come from conscious decision-making. I’ve merely gone from step to step in a way that seemed logical. Focus wasn’t even a word I thought about much. But I do now.
I’ve completed three novels. I have two other novels that are close to completion. I’m not sure the three finished novels don’t need more editing and sometimes I think about scrapping them and starting from scratch. Once I heard a published author answer the question, “When do you know your novel is finished?” She said, “When it’s published, and even then…….”
If a published author doesn’t know when their work is finished, how am I supposed to know? I guess I’ll just have to focus and figure it out. And go with my gut, something that I’ve only recently learned to do.
Focus on the issue and then go with my gut. This is my new mantra. The main issue for me right now is completion. The corollary is to get my work out there, one way or another. My plan is to make these two things my focus for at least the rest of this year.
Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. I’ll leave you with a question. Or three. What is your focus, how do you determine it and how do you stick to it?