Focus

Focus on the words you use. Can you put into words what you see and what you feel, right now? 

Look life in the eye.  Focus on what is in front of your eyes in this moment. How does the situation in which you find yourself make you feel? I wonder if you can put into words what you see and what you feel. Can you describe it? What is the clearest and most direct way to express it?

Focus on the words you use. Find the exact words to express what you need to say. Use just those words and no others.

Making yourself focus on finding the precise words, the right words, for the right moment can teach you so much.

I love to write. I love the flow state that I can sometimes get into whilst writing. It is a particular and pleasant kind of focus. Writing can be a wonderful journey. I get to find out where the words will take me. I get to find out if I can express in words what I am feeling and what I am seeing in the world around me. Often, I get to find out what I think.

Writing this blog is a hobby for me. I set myself no parameters on subject matter, or on the length of what I write. I love to set my mind to wander where the words might take me. But I also attempt to exercise discipline and focus when it comes to my writing.

Discipline

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Regular writing is a discipline. I aim to share my words with the world on a regular basis via this blog (whether the world has the slightest interest in them is a different matter entirely). Roughly this exact point in November 2021 marks two solid years of my having published at least one (although rarely more than one) post per week.

I write to no particular end. There is no reason for this blog to exist, other than to give me a creative outlet and to indulge in the joy of writing.

All the same, I try always to improve my writing, and sometimes have small goals for what I want to achieve with words. I will set myself little puzzles or challenges. Often, just finding the right words for what I want to say is the biggest challenge. In conversation, I am by no means the world’s most verbally articulate person. The words don’t always flow. I came across a great quotation the other week: “I only open my mouth to change feet.” I can relate.

The written word is a different matter. The words often seem simply to flow out. I can and frequently do express things in a way that surprises me in terms of how closely it matches what I would love to be able to say out loud, if only I could find the right words when I speak.

I’ve always loved these words from Vladimir Nabokov’s foreword to his excellent volume of Strong Opinions (although were I to apply them to myself, the first two clauses would need a lot toning down, while the third would probably be pretty spot on):

“I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.”

Focus

Dülmen, Hausdülmen, Distel

To express what is on your mind with clarity requires focus.

How can you express what you want to say in the clearest way possible?

A lot of people will tell you that it is vital to use the plainest language you can.* I would tweak this slightly: Use the language that is most correct, that reads or sounds the best to you, that comes closest to what you wish to express. It is certainly wise to skew towards the plainer end of the linguistic spectrum. Pretentious polysyllabic preening swiftly grows tiresome. But, that said, you have a beautiful and vast treasury of words with an infinity of possible combinations at your disposal. Why limit yourself?**

At first, putting an intense focus on the words you write can feel daunting and difficult. But keep this focus up and you will be amazed at the gradual increase in your confidence with words, and the increased ease with which they flow out of you.

Occasionally, though, the flow of words will slow or cease. Focusing on what is in front of your eyes right now and how it makes you feel can help the words to flow once more. As little respect and admiration as I have for him as a singer, I have to give it to Bono (of U2 fame) for his advice on ways around writer’s block (I read these words in an article once, and cannot recall the source, so I am forced to paraphrase):

“If you can’t think of anything to write, write about what is on your mind or the situation you’re in, right now.”

No two days, no two moments in your life will ever be exactly the same. Do you really have nothing new to say about the unique historical moment in which you currently find yourself? Even if your today does feel a lot like your yesterday, there are still infinite different combinations of words you can use to describe it.

A focused approach to finding the right words sharpens your ability. I try to keep my writing match fit. This is useful for my work, which involves much use of the written word. It is useful for my life. It is useful for my mind. It is useful for finding the shape of my own thoughts. For forcing what might be fuzzy or unfinished thoughts into some kind of finished expression.

There is an ocean of beautiful words and lovely, undiscovered forms of expression for you to use.

Time to dive in?

What helps you to focus?

When writing for my work I tend to need silence (or some serious quiet, at the very least) to focus.

But when writing this blog, music helps me to focus. I tend to favour endlessly long, wordless and trance-inducing tracks. I have compiled these into a YouTube playlist entitled Music for writing (MJCarty approved).***

What helps you to focus? If it’s music, what music helps you to focus?

I conclude this post with one of my very favourite pieces of music to which to write (and which you can find on my writing playlist), Mordents by Sarah Davachi, an ultra-minimalist beauty from her wonderful album Let Night Come On Bells End The Day.

How do these sounds make you feel? I wonder if you can put that into words. Can you describe it? What is the clearest and most direct way to express it?

FOOTNOTES

* Grammar-checking apps, for example, might reward only the most terse of sentences, and would advise you always to use active sentence constructions. If this works for you, and/or if you don’t mind every sentence in what you write having the same basic construction, then go for it with my fullest support.

** The limitless wonder of the English language and its infinite potential combinations of words is captured most brilliantly in these words from the following wee bit of A Bit of Fry and Laurie:

“Our language, Tiger, our language, hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of possible legitimate new ideas, so that I can say this sentence and be confident it has never been uttered before in the history of human communication: ‘Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.’”

*** Here is what you can find on the Music for writing (MJCarty approved) playlist so far. I will be adding more music to this playlist as I come across more lovely music to which to write:

  1. Sarah Davachi – Mordents (from Let Night Come On Bells End The Day).
  2. Harmonia & Eno ’76 – Atmosphere (Edward’s Desert Version) From Tracks & Traces Remixed by Harmonia & Eno 76 (2012-11-13).
  3. Klaus Schulze – Bayreuth Return (From Timewind).
  4. Wodensthrone – Fyrgenstréam (From Loss).
  5. Kali Malone – The Sacrificial Code.
  6. Part 2: Plastikman x Endel: 24 hours of Deeper Focus | AI-powered soundscape | @Beatport Live.

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