The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Thesis Blues pt. 11

with one comment

Focus may be the most critical aspect of my writing intellect that I have worked to develop the past few years. It’s what gets you into the work fast, what keeps you centered on the work, and what eventually leads you to the mythical “flow” that is so crucial to writing instinctively, subconsciously, and at your most premium level.

Writing doesn’t just fall out of your back pocket by accident and hit the ground as a polished gem. It takes work, patience, and dedication. But you can’t get to it, or hope to do your best work, without a good deal of focus. It takes a while to get there, and much like any great athlete or performer, you have to warm up to get your focus so you can perform your best. Reggie Miller bombed 3-pointers, practiced free-throws, and drove to the hoop on the left and right hand side to get ready for a game. Albert Pujols takes cuts off a hitting tee, takes soft-toss, and then batting practice before the game starts. I once saw a concert film of The Eagles, and the group stood in a small circle backstage, rhaposidizing “There are stars in the southern sky…” over and over before they took the stage and sang it. You have to do it; there is perhaps no athlete or artist who can pull their best performance off effortlessly without getting warmed up for it (an exception might be Joyce Carol Oates, who has probably finished two novels in the time I’ve spent on this blog). It’s like the practice that is essential to the performance; you won’t perform any better than you practice.

So, to snare my focus, I use several different approaches. One is to work out before I write (I mentioned that in episode 10). Working through puzzles like Sudoku, or the daily crossword, often help. Picturing myself writing, down to what I’m wearing and where I’m sitting, help me get started with my focus. Writing short blog entries, emails, or even text messages helps get the juices flowing. I’ve tried creating lists of 10 similes and 10 metaphors. I’ve listened to music. I’ve called friends and told them, “Hey! I’m going to do some writing right now, and this is what I’m going to write about.” If they allow me, I even tell them why and where I’m going to have problems. Then they usually hang up. What has worked the best for me has been to work through line edits in any given piece, preparing myself to get things right by correcting previous mistakes and shortcomings.

I got an idea today to try something new. One of my freshman asked if anybody had any gum. In fact, she said, “I need some gum so I can focus.” (It’s final exam week where I teach). I remarked to her that I had just read something in the paper last weekend that talked about how chewing gum helps you focus. She looked at me cock-eyed (these aren’t the types of students who read the paper). Another kid asked how gum could do that. I hypothesized that it may be the repetitive motion of the jaw and the near-constant oral stimulus activated by flavor and texture. It keeps your mind sharp by providing constant “dialogue” between your nervous center and your brain; there’s a near-constant cognitive process occurring. That was met with more cock-eyed looks.

I’m going to find out soon. I plan on doing a lot of writing this weekend, and am going to buy some gum and see what happens. I hope it’s not what always happened with gum when I was a kid and why I still don’t chew gum today: the flavor went away too fast, and it always felt like I was chewing an amorphous mass of flavorless nothing. Surely the advances in chewing gum in the last 30 years have compensated for that? I’ll see.

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Written by seeker70

January 15, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi Jeff! My recent experience suggests that chewing gum is just as disgusting as it was when we were kids, for the reasons you mention. But if you find out something different, please let me know!!

    malibuconnie

    January 16, 2009 at 3:00 am


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