Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On Focus, Fire, and Friends' Advice

view from morning walk November 2017
"I write essays to clear my mind. I write fiction to open my heart." --Taiye Selasi

When I came across this quote, I said yes! I do believe the words describe my experience of writing, too. I have often said that writing is a personal journey of discovery, of exploration, of finding out what we think, not what someone else tells us. It's a gift given to those of us who take up the challenge. And along the way, we learn what is in our  hearts.

Finding this quote came on the heels of a couple of things. First, although I don't often write essays, I do write devotions and recently was notified that one of my writings has been accepted for inclusion in an anthology edited by Susan King, associate editor of Upper Room Magazine, tentatively titled Short and Sweet III. What was exceptional about this submission? The entire piece, except for proper names and some contractions, had to be written with one-syllable words. Talk about a challenge! (More on the book as we get closer to the publication date.)

Secondly, the quote came after a recent meeting with my dear friends and writing critique partners, in which we talked about the upcoming year. "I'm having trouble with focus," I told them. "So many projects, so many thoughts. What do I focus on? Where do I go from here?"

Interestingly, the Dictionary of Word Origins, by John Ayto, says this about focus: "Latin focus meant 'fireplace,' and in post-classical times it came to be used for 'fire' itself--hence French feu, Italian fuoco, Spanish fuego, all meaning 'fire,' and hence too the English derivatives fuel and fusillade. The first writer known to have used it in its modern sense 'point of convergence' was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, in 1604."

Focus is equated with fire? Wow, that puts a whole new spin on the subject. Ayto continues: "It may have been some metaphorical notion of the 'hearth' symbolizing the 'centre of the home.'"

What does this mean for us in this upcoming year? What might our focus--our fire--be? What will be the center of our writing, and will the kind of writing we choose help clear the mind and/or open the heart?

These are good questions. For me it means revisiting my goals for fiction writing, the possibility of self-publishing a haiku chapbook (any and all advice welcome!), and dipping the toes into more social media. Hmmmm...

Focus. Fire! Friends' advice. As writers, we need them all, and 2018 promises to be a great new year for living them out. How about you? Are you having trouble with focus in your writing? Are you on fire for your work? What kind of writing helps clear your mind and/or opens your heart? And what advice do your writer friends give you that helps you along your way?


  1. Congratulations about the inclusion of your work in an upcoming anthology! One-syllable words? That would've been a hair-pulling challenge.

    I loved hearing about the origins of the word "focus." Where is my fire this year? Last fall, I read a dozen or so books on building your platform (something I've put off now for years). I am currently known (in the writing world) to very few people. So the fire this year will be on attempting to get known in the writing and book blogging communities.

    That means I'll be blogging A LOT, with reviews, blog hops. Over the past couple of months, my blaze (fire) has been to locate all book blogger and writing memes/challenges and make plans to hook into them.

    I now have 700 placeholder/draft posts on my blog, and the entire 2018 mapped out. I want to get to know people, and it's only by participating in these things that that happens. Facebook and Twitter still scare me (meaning I'm not going near them for a while longer), but I'm planning to be on instagram at least once a week, possibly more.

    Will it leave any time for writing? We shall see. I've returned to writing YA, since two of the lines I'd hoped to break into closed in the inspirational market, releasing 100+ multi-published authors to fend for the slots in the already severely contracted market.

    But if at the end of 2018 my YA romance has been rejected (I hope to submit it in June), I am gearing up to self-publish. If that happens, I'll be focusing again on my historical inspirational romances.

    Advice for you if you plan to self-publish a book of haiku? Get busy building your platform. Find others who read/review haiku on the internet and on GoodReads. They are your market, the people who will buy your book.

    Learn all you can about self-publishing. Read Susan Quinn's books on self-publishing. From everything I've read, it's good to go narrow, with Amazon and its KDP program. But that's for people who write commercial fiction. To find your audience, you might need to go wide, meaning not exclusively with Amazon.

    Well, this turned out to be long.
    Have a great weekend.

    1. Oh, Cathy--thanks so much for your note! Your advice is well taken and your own journey to platforms and marketing and building your audience is motivating to those of us dipping our toes in the process :-) You really outline a plan, and I wish you all the best in your goals for the year. It truly must be disappointing to see targeted markets for your fiction close, especially since I remember you came in as a finalist in one of the inspirational romance contests. But please keep writing, keep going forward. We cheer you on to publication, whatever form it takes! And I really am taking to heart your advice about building platform, checking out sources online that champion haiku, and checking out Susan Quinn's books. I saved your comments and will return to them as I set my goals :-) Thanks again for your input. Much appreciated. Will keep you up to date...

  2. I enjoyed both your post, Kenda, and Cathy's response. I love the connection between focus and fire. I hadn't thought about it that way, but I know when my focus has been scattered I haven't had much fire for writing. I took a class recently — 6 sessions, and the teacher gives challenges and homework to do on a current piece of work. I revived and old manuscript that bogged down on me, even though I loved the novel itself, and I have to say I am on fire with it again. My goal is to finish this new draft of it this year.

    On another note, congratulations on your soon to be anthologized essay, and also on your possible haiku chapbook. I'll be interested on how that goes. I am working on a collection of poems (long way to go) and I haven't a clue about chapbooks. Best of luck on yours.

    1. Elizabeth--another encouraging note, this one from you! Your recent class sounds like just what the doctor ordered, reigniting the fire for your current work after being bogged down. Love to hear this. It also shows how we need a community of writers to encourage us and help 'fan the flames' of our love for writing! (The metaphor of fire applied to focus keeps on giving :-) And thanks for your encouragement about a haiku chapbook. As I say, I'm in the exploring process at the moment. Maybe what I learn can help you, too--we'll keep in touch!

  3. First, congratulations on your essay! I love the idea of using only one-syllable words - and good for you, to accomplish that!

    I did not know about the connection between focus and fire. I had been thinking recently about what my next project would be and realized that the ones I have loved most were those I felt passionate about. (Maybe I could say "on fire" about?) When I have a project I love, there's never any difficulty getting up in the morning to write. The focus is there. So, yes, I believe that's a very good definition!

    And a little advice from friends never hurts either. :-)

    1. Thanks, Peggy--while at first the one-syllable challenge seemed daunting, I found I really enjoyed the process. We learn so much from each project we work on, don't we? And you've hit on another connection to the subject of focus/fire: passion :-) What else would prompt us to get up earlier in the morning than we have to? I can learn from you, knowing that you work full time and yet your writing is so important to you that you sacrifice sleep for it. That is a lesson well taken. And thanks for your advice through these years--I've always appreciated it! Have a great weekend...

    2. Sorry, I only work part-time now, though it feels like full-time during certain parts of the semester. But though I love to teach, I often wish I could just stay home and write. In a couple more years, I'll do that.

    3. Even so, working part time--you're still a busy person, and you still make writing a priority :-) Love knowing that about you, and I take that as inspiration!

  4. Love that quote. And the picture you shared too. :) Congratulations on the acceptance! That is exciting. Yes, keep us posted on the details. Have a great weekend!

  5. Thanks, Karen :-) Wishing you a good weekend, too!