persist - write better by maintaining your focus

Persistence isn’t about maintaining a steady pace. It’s about knowing when to lie down and when to get back up again. The paradox is that sustained focus requires looking away occasionally, letting attention lapse, loosening, and relaxing.

We’re made of blood and bone. We tire. Courting inspired forward movement involves kneeling and bowing our heads now and then – a pause to acknowledge that our brilliance must come through a body which lives in the world.

Endurance, particularly through a long writing project like a book, most likely doesn’t take the form of a straight, uninterrupted line from conception to book tour. We move forward in surges and cycles. It helps immensely to be aware of your own needs for renewal through those cycles.

Resist assuming that tiredness of mind or body, wandering attention, and diminished ability to focus are signs that the track you’ve been on is suddenly the wrong track. Step away from the swirling vortex. Beware of prognostications and sweeping conclusions. They’re often figments of a tired imagination, really only signals that it’s time to take a break and recharge before continuing again in the same direction.

persist – endure, pursue, carry on, keep going, follow through, be resolute, be stubborn, continue, go all the way, tough it out, be tenacious, be determined, continue, prevail

A slight shift in perspective can relieve the strain of flagging stamina: Persist through to the end by maintaining your focus on the journey to your goal rather than primarily on the goal itself. This allows attention to be here now rather than always in the distance somewhere. Focusing primarily on the endpoint can blind us to the effects the journey itself has on us and on the creation, which can be significant.

Within the overarching cycle of your quest, smaller cycles and feedback loops have the potential to deepen and enrich the work as a whole. Pushing toward the end without attending to renewal along the way diminishes your ability to notice the small journeys within the big journey, and to tap their potential for deepening the work.

“Better keep yourself clean and bright;
you are the window through which
you must see the world.”
George Bernard Shaw

When we take care of ourselves well during a journey, we arrive at the end powerful rather than depleted. We arrive without having spent ourselves in the process. This makes crossing the finish line a celebration of creativity rather than an urgent health necessity.

What are your warnings signs of flagging stamina? An “Are we there yet?” feeling of boredom, dullness, and depletion? Weakness and glimpses of something resembling depression? Frustration and easily-triggered irritation? Spot warning cries for relief sooner than later so a cure can be applied early – a Band-Aid rather than a trip to the hospital. Then your strength is maintained for the long haul and your focus can return to the work.

relief – easing, comfort, solace, alleviation, release, diversion, respite, assistance, liberation, recreation, succor, help, reassurance, sustenance, soothing, amusement, consolation

How do you rejuvenate? What’s your most direct route from flagging energy to restored energy?

  • A walk around the block or through the woods,
  • a cat purring on your lap and a cup of tea,
  • a gooey snack at the neighbourhood bistro,
  • a long bike ride with the kids,
  • dancing, singing, listening to music, going to a concert,
  • a weekend away with a favorite pal,
  • a night out with friends who make you laugh,
  • a long meander through a bookstore or a flea market,
  • a nap, a phone call, a picnic, a hot air balloon ride?

Sometimes, however studiously applied, rejuvenation remain ineffective. What then? If a review of your quest as you’ve defined it no longer rings true and your energy resuscitation efforts aren’t working, maybe you do need to revise. Spend a while reconnecting with your fascination. Does your aim only need adjusting? Or do you need to admit that this is no longer a true quest so you can clarify one that is?

Sometimes the quest’s aim remains true and the raw material still invites adoration, but the writing seems to refuse to cooperate and nothing productive (meaning movement toward your quest as you’ve defined it) occurs, or not without great effort. Are you willing to ask for help, then?

Asking for help doesn’t have to mean hiring someone. It starts with a willingness to look outside yourself for relief. Release pressure by seeking help from someone who’s been where you are and gotten through it, or from sources of wisdom that have proven useful to you before – in the area of writing or in another area altogether. Look around outside yourself for help with getting back to yourself. Be willing to see and to ask.

“If you have built castles in the air,
your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put foundations under them.”
Henry David Thoreau

When you reach the end of your quest, kiss the ground. Do something to bless the journey you’ve made. Lay down the riches of your quest, with love, and acknowledge that your finished creation, which you gestated and brought into the world, now has a life of its own.

However small or large your project was, turn around and look back at the path you took to get to the finish line. Pause to bask in your own glory. Be the prize.

As you cycle through creativity’s stages over and over (and over) again, please be gentle with yourself. The world needs what you have to say. We need to be blinded by the light reflecting off your treasure, so we can see anew. Take good care of yourself and your gifts. Be a sustainable resource for the rest of us.

Here’s a mini starter kit to get you going. Ask yourself …

  • What activities keep my creative vision clean and bright?
  • What’s my favourite way of reconnecting with my excitement about this topic?
  • What are my first warning signs that I might need a focus break?
  • How might I remind myself to check on my energy level?
  • What systems can I put into place to make resuscitation quick and easy?
  • What type of help tends to be most effective for me?
  • What rewards can I give myself for continuing toward my goal?
  • How will I acknowledge my astonishing greatness when I’ve achieved my quest?

Travel with curiosity about yourself from start to finish: Make your quest worth the journey, fall in love with your topic, discover and practice your system for finishing, and find a way to lay your head down in the warm grass and stare up at the sky.

 “The ultimate act of faith is breathing out.”
Chery Cratty

Allow yourself to exhale. Another breath will come. Another word. Another milestone. Keep inhaling what you love and exhaling what you write. Above all, ask questions. Know yourself.

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This is the fourth article in a four-part series on writing better by being curious about yourself:

1 – wander – write better by clarifying your quest
2 – wonder – write better by exploring your fascination
3 – ponder – write better by organizing your ideas
4 – persist – write better by maintaining your focus

4 comments to persist – write better by maintaining your focus