The longer I practice my art, the more I'm convinced that the difference between those who succeed at finding an audience for their art and those who don't is the ability to maintain focus when life conspires.
Every new project has what I call a honeymoon phase. During this phase I'm so eager to get to work that I rush the girls to school, grab a quick breakfast, put up the tea kettle, and spend hours at my computer. More often than not my muse is so jazzed at this point that I'm unable to keep up as she introduces characters, places and world events, and offers me insights into the story.
Exciting and energizing, each day is a new discovery. Unfortunately, this inspirational phase doesn't last. After awhile the newness of the project wears off, and the breathless time spent typing my first draft turns into months--and in some cases years--of re-visioning.
Here's where the persistence, patience, and, more importantly, the ability to focus comes into play. During the re-visioning phase, life can and does conspire. Jobs come and go. Children enter our lives or set out on their own. Significant others come. Or go. Illness strikes. Our priorities shift. Our to-do lists grow.
Good or bad, happy or sad, our lives both inform our work and distract us from it. The challenge during times like these is keeping our work a priority, enough so that we're able to maintain the momentum created when our muse first whispered in our ear.
As the mother of three girls, one with significant special needs, keeping my focus as I re-vision my current work-in-progress, KM, has been one of the biggest challenges of my writing life. This isn't a complaint. It's a statement of fact. Realizing that my girls inform my writing in addition to challenging it was the key to making my process work for me rather than against me.
For the record I'd be lying if I said that tossing aside KM rather than finishing it hasn't crossed my mind. The difference here is that I refuse to let the fantasy go any further.
I am and always will be a writer. Which means that honing my ability to reclaim my center whenever life conspires is an essential skill.
Striving to write two pages a day is one way I keep focused. I have one of my VC advisors, Jane Resh Thomas, to thank for this practice, and the benefits it reaps.
Jane's mantras are simple:
1. Do your work.
2. Write two pages a day.
My two pages are rarely great. And I freely admit that lately I haven't come close to attaining such a simple goal. Yet, pledging to make it so means that more often than not I'm writing something each day, and when I finally sitt butt in chair to work on KM I'm able to enter the flow of my story much easier than if I'd waited until it was "convenient" to do so.
Another way I maintain my focus: yoga. Last night's class was a prime example of why I must continue my practice, especially in the face of E's illnesses.
Each pose, each asana does more than improve flexibility and core strength. Each posture becomes a moving meditation, one that requires such intense concentration that my worries slip away. The present is all that matters during that hour.
Each stretch and breath is in the here and now. And inevitably, by the end of the hour, something amazing happens.
My characters step forward. Sometimes as a group. Sometimes individually. They don't always have much to say, but it's enough to know they're there, waiting.
Remembering last night's class recalls the sense of peace and clarity I found there. And remembering that clarity reminds me my characters haven't deserted me no matter how much I fear that they have done so in the face of life's challenges.
Yoga is a gift. It brings me closer to my writing, reminding me that when I'm ready to work, my characters will be ready, too.
All I need to do is find my center--the place of clarity I've discovered through my yoga practice--and call.