Although, for some reason, no one has asked me, I’m going to reveal the secret of successful writing. I’m sure that many people read my books and wonder how I do it. How do I come up with books that are brimming with humor and interesting tidbits and still manage to raise two kids and work at home? What is the secret of my success, if success is the word I want? I’ll tell you in one word: focus.
For instance, yesterday, I sat down to write an essay about writing. Now, several things could have gotten in my way, but I didn’t let them. Laundry, squabbling kids, rodents, illegible bills that may be overdue by the time they dry out, cats in shopping bags, possibly dead woodpeckers, and a lack of information about Hanta Virus – it was all ganging up on me, but I managed to put it aside and write. Well, I started to write. I’m going to finish now.
To begin with, when I descended to my basement computer room, there was a definite pong of something other than the incense I use to inspire me. Eau de Souris Morte would be my guess. Sure enough, when I tracked the smell down to its source, I found a dead mouse lying under the sleeper couch that we use for guests. When I picked up the mouse with paper towels and threw it out into the woods behind the house, a thought occurred to me.
I believe it was my cyber-friend, Elisheva, who mentioned Hanta Virus, so I washed my hands and tottered over to her blog. I couldn’t seem to find the entry on Hanta, but I did have a lovely half hour reading her entry about auditory processing that, oddly enough, included the subject of mouse brains.Of course, I had to take a quick look at an entry about New Mexico weather that features some beautiful photos that almost make me want to pack up and move out to the mountains.
I could have gone on reading all day, but, of course, I didn’t, because I needed to focus on writing. Writing this, as a matter of fact, which had started with a dead mouse but that wasn’t the focus of my essay. Hmm, what WAS the focus of my article? Oh yes, I was writing about the secret to successful writing, which is focus. Women who write, especially mothers who write, often have trouble staying on track because of all the little domestic problems that crop up over the course of a day.
Laundry, for instance, is a never-ending chore in our house, and I seem to be the one who does most of it. Of course, in part, that’s because the washer and dryer are in the basement, and that’s where I am when I’m writing. It’s not that much of a hassle for me to throw a load of clothes into the washer before I turn on the computer. But what is a hassle is taking them out of the dryer, folding them and stacking them on shelves so that family members can retrieve them later. As I heard the dryer stop while I was typing the third paragraph of this, I thought about whether it’s more annoying to get up in the middle of a thought or to wear wrinkled clothes. I don’t mind wrinkles, but Geekdaddy does have to interact with the public and his income mostly floats this boat, so I opted for the interruption.
When I got back to my desk, I noticed that there were little black particles on the rug under my chair. Further inspection revealed that they were mouse turds, which led my thoughts back to Hanta Virus again. I figured it would be a good idea to vacuum them just to be on the safe side, so I went upstairs and lugged the ancient Miele downstairs and plugged it in. It’s an excellent vacuum, with a long hose and a wand that reaches all the way to the ceiling corners for cobweb removal, which is what I’d been vacuuming the last time I used it.
That’s why, when I vigorously attacked the mouse droppings, the excess wand that stretched out behind me hit my coffee cup on the desk, next to a pile of bills I was planning to sort and file for future payment. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it until I turned off the vacuum, so the envelopes and the papers inside them were so saturated with coffee that I didn’t dare do any more than lay them next to the baseboard heater to dry.
Some people might have lost their focus right there and gotten involved in checking their records to make sure none of the bills were due right then, but I am not one of those people. I stayed firmly focused on whatever it was I was doing before the coffee spilled. Hmm, vacuuming? No, I wasn’t writing about vacuuming. I was writing about writing. That’s right. And I’m still writing about it and will continue to write about it until I’m finished with this. If it kills me.
Focus, is what separates professional writers from amateurs and what the heck was all that noise upstairs? Kids fighting was my guess, and I was right, so I went up and mediated and got them to keep it down so that I could write. The writing was coming along nicely until there was an enormous bang and Daughter came running downstairs to tell me that a woodpecker had hit the dining room window and was lying on the deck.
It was the one we call Mrs. Meep, mate to Mr. Meep, the mid-size woodpecker and she was lying there with her eyes open and her head at a very odd angle. I was sure she was dead, but daughter begged me to give her a chance to recover, so I did. That’s why only half my mind was on my writing as I typed several sentences about how to retain your focus on your writing no matter what’s going on in your environment. They were very pithy and helpful, and I wish I could show them to you, but Daughter came downstairs crying her eyes out, which took my attention off my writing, and I unwittingly deleted several paragraphs.
That’s why I had to start all over today, but it’s probably all to the good. Geekdaddy is home due to one of the snowstorms we have here in Maine, just to give us a change from blackflies, Mud Season and hurricanes, so he’s able to deal with anything that threatens to interrupt my thought processes and what the heck was that?
I don’t believe it. Son’s ancient (96 in cat years) but amazingly playful cat has managed to get her head stuck through the opening of a plastic shopping bag and is whizzing around the basement meowing. Son is thundering around after her, which is not likely to work, because he can’t fit under oil tanks and treadmills and behind laundry appliances and she can, even with a bag stuck on her neck.
However, I will let him handle it and keep on with my writing even though I can also hear Daughter yowling upstairs and Geekdaddy attempting to reason with her. I’ll just do a quick check to make sure nothing serious is happening and get myself another cup of coffee at the same time.
Good thing I checked, because – proving my brother’s old saying, “If it happens once, it’ll happen again” – Daughter had somehow managed to get her head through the sleeve of her t-shirt and was semi-hysterical and unable to follow Geekdaddy’s somewhat scientific instructions for getting out. That and the huge pair of scissors he was holding had her in a tizzy, and I can’t say I blame her.
I soothed her down, got her out and helped her make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to calm her nerves. She cheered up quite a bit when Mrs. Meep suddenly flew up and back to the suet, returned from the dead and proof, once again, that woodpeckers are a very hardheaded bunch. I shared a moment of joy with Daughter, but then went downstairs and continued writing because I was not about to lose my focus now that I was almost finished. Come to think of it, I guess it is finished. It’s not exactly what I had intended to write, but I believe you get the gist of what I’m trying to convey here.
If you want to be a successful author, you have to put your craft first. As you can see from this piece of writing, without focus, your writing career will be just another daydream and not a stepping stone to your goal. So, follow my example. Stay focused and stay on track and you’ll soon be churning out words like crazy, unless mice, cats, dead birds that spring back to life, kids, lethal viruses, coffee, laundry and life get in your way. Or you could go live in a cave and become a hermit, and it’d be nice and peaceful for writing. Of course, you wouldn’t have anything to write about, but there’s always a catch, isn’t there?