How focusing on one task at a time can improve our writing and decrease our frustration with life in general.
When I was a kid, (and yes, even today) I had a weird eating habit. I would eat in what my mother calls “courses,” meaning I would start with the vegetable and finish it entirely before turning to the protein, then to the potatoes, then to the bread. It was even rare that I would even interrupt this process to imbibe beverages until they were up in the rotation.
I also had this thing about food with different flavor profiles touching each other (please do not put the applesauce next to the spinach, for the love of Pete), but that’s an entirely different blog post.
The reason this is relevant, and I promise there’s a point here, is that I have come to realize that this is reflective of most aspects of my life, and maybe yours, too. It’s very difficult for me to fully consume – or get good at – one thing while I am taking bites out of three or four other things.
This is true in big and small ways. Reading, for example. Some people can read three or four books at a time. Not me. I read slowly and deliberately, soaking in every word, every nuance, every sentence construction. I explore every elicited emotion I experience while I’m reading, and I can only do this with one book at a time. Full immersion. No distractions.
I won’t even talk about how this relates to my love life.
The point is that I can’t expect to get good at writing a blog or a book or a series of short stories if I can’t give these activities the proper focus they deserve.
I was talking with my friend, Lisa, while I was staying at her apartment in New York this past week (Blog Expo debriefing post on the way, I promise!). She, of course, is going through the same thing in her life, because we are the same person, after all. We are both very helpful, supportive people, with a lot of heart to offer to activities and organizations that make us happy. This is an admirable quality. However, we are also both people who have singular goals in mind that are wrapped around very specific passions which also require our time. So, what happens? At the end of these days full of helpfulness, we find ourselves completely pissed at the world. Why? We desperately would like to focus on “A,” but instead, we find ourselves splitting our time amongst a handful of “B”s. Our “A” is sitting at home, waiting for our attention, but by the time we get there, all we want to do is crawl into bed mad because we haven’t had the time to focus on it. Rargh!
So, we made a pact. No New “B”s! No New BEES!! I joked that I would draw a picture of a giant bumblebee with a line through it and send it to her for her bathroom mirror. We both knew it was a joke because I can’t draw. (Thank you, The Watermelon, for creating an image representing your satirical rant on banning bee pollination!)
No new bees!! Focus on “A.” I stare at my dinner plate and think about how it all makes sense. Commitment to our passions and to the goals we want to accomplish with our passions requires a giant scaling down of the activities and concerns that do not directly support this cause. It seems so obvious now. Eat your fracking spinach, Tiffany, I tell myself.
Stephen King calls this “writing with the door closed.” To me, this now means turning off the phone, saying NO, and prioritizing the 10% when I can’t say no. It’s not easy. When someone calls to ask me to organize something or participate in something or volunteer, my heart aches to be useful. But I exercise restraint, at least just for now. For now, I eat my spinach. For now, I write.
So, my message this morning: Pick A. Pick your spinach. Eat it. Love it. Don’t feel bad about saying no to the bees until you’ve fully consumed the spinach. It’s your time. There’s nothing worse than feeling pissed at the world because you didn’t get to do A today. Do A today. Find a way.
That is all.