It’s been months since I last posted to my blog. As a result, I have many ideas that I want to express, and most of them aren’t really in this blog’s regular focus on writing. This desire to write about things that are outside my regular focus has indeed been a significant contributor to my lack of writing: somehow it hasn’t seemed that important to write about writing practices and becoming a better writer, and that drains my motivation and interest in writing about writing.
Writing needs focus; good writing is focused, or at least good expository writing is focused. Maintaining focus requires discipline and effort, which is more difficult when one is not strongly motivated. At present, I am less interested in writing about personal issues like writing than about national and global problems and politics, particularly the situation in the U.S. with the pandemic. I’ve already written to my blog about using writing as a way to find some sort of emotional refuge from the stresses of the pandemic and about how practices requiring discipline and focus can, at least for a time, take a person away from larger problems in the outside world. (I very strongly believe that a focused practice can contribute to mental health, and that it is worth the difficulty to find time for such a practice—even if only a little time—during periods of great stress.) But can I continue to write about writing when my interests are so directed towards other issues? This post shows that I can: I am writing about writing, although I plan to also write about other things as well.
Helping people write is important to me. It is something that I do fairly well—at least I have had some successes—and it is something that is valuable to me, too, especially when helping people write about scholarly things. I believe in the general value of scholarship, and I believe that people who pursue scholarship are generally working for the betterment of the world.
At times, however, this motivation feels weak and unimportant. Whatever the truth of the value of scholarship, helping scholars doesn’t always seem like the most important thing in the world now. Climate change is important. Saving democratic (or at least partly democratic) governments and institutions is important. Saving lives by combating the spread of a global pandemic seems important. I want to write about these things because I believe I can write something that might be useful in spreading important ideas, even if I am not an expert in any of these subjects. And these subjects of great importance demand my attention, distracting me and delaying me from writing about what I really know best, which is how to help people write better.
I often tell writers of the importance of being able to put aside some ideas to focus on others. I suggest thinking about writing as a long-term practice in which there are many projects to be written, but in which only one project can be the focus of attention at any one time. Implicit in this view is the idea that at some point it’s OK to go and write about the other things. The idea behind this approach is that it allows a writer to set aside the many things competing for attention and delaying and distracting writing so that they can finish one focused project.
Today, I started writing with the idea that I would focus on things other than writing, but I quickly became overwhelmed with the many things that I wanted to write about, which made me think about how competing ideas, each demanding attention, can hinder the focus that writing requires. This post is a step towards clearing away one of the ideas that intruded upon my writing process while also satisfying my desire to write about the practice of writing. I write this as a promise to myself that I will also write about the political and global issues that trouble me and that seem worth writing about. By focusing on one idea, I can complete a project and then move on to a new one.
This morning I set out to write about political issues, but in order to deal with competing ideas that pulled my attention in several directions, I committed to writing this, which is about a subject I know well. And, having finished this, I can go on to some other focused effort. I suspect that in the near future, I will allow my blog to discuss political matters, which I have avoided in the past. By giving myself permission to work on those other ideas later—after I finish this—I can more easily focus here. And, when I attempt to write about matters political, I will use the same strategy: although I will have many things to say—too many for any one post—I will focus on one and try to carry it to completion, while promising myself that those other ideas will be the focus of later works.