Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"Your Focus Needs More Focus"

Our satellite provider recently gave us a weekend preview of some movie channels. That gave me the chance to watch (most of) yet another movie I'd missed in the theater...The Jackie Chan version of "The Karate Kid."

Okay, I liked it. Yes, it was a remake, but still... I'm a huge Jackie Chan fan, and this role shows a different facet of his character. It also seems Jaden Smith may have inherited his parents' mad acting skills. If nothing else, it was worth watching for the breathtaking views of China.

Those who have seen it will probably remember the scene on the pier, right after they climbed the mountain to drink from the spring. Dre was anxious to try what he'd seen an advanced Kung Fu master do on the trip up. When Mr. Han tells him he needs to work on his focus, Dre replies, "I'm focused." Milliseconds later, Mr. Han has a startled Dre hanging inches from the cold water. Then comes the line I loved.

"Your focus needs more focus."

I can't say for sure what the writers, directors and Chan himself might have meant by that line, but I know what lesson I got from it. Dre was focused. He was focused on the end result, on his vision of himself as an invincible Kung Fu warrior. That's good as far as it goes, but it's not enough.

Dre lacked a focus on the here and now. His aspirations were good, but he needed to focus on the present, on each move and principle that would take him where he wanted to go. Without those, he could focus on his dream forever without moving any closer to it.

I think the same problem of focus can hinder writers. It may not be that I'm not focused. I may be very focused on the fame or wealth I believe writing can earn me. The thoughts of movie rights and book signings might claim all my waking thoughts. Yet, to even have a shot of getting there, I can't focus solely on the prize. I have to focus on the writing.

Dre had to focus on movement, on anticipating his opponent and shutting out distractions. As writers, we need to focus on the art, on developing plots and themes and characters, on crafting descriptive prose or breath-stealing poetry. Then we advance to focusing on the technical skills of getting published: how to connect with editors and agents, how to write query letters and cover letters, and the legal aspects of rights and contracts.

When we have a grasp on that, we can think about fame. Maybe. Having made our writing and marketing skills second nature, we can consider some of the perks of success. Then, and only then, may we be ready to charm the snake.

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