The Trouble with Focus


Focus breeds diligence. I won’t argue with that.

A image of my space girl illustration next to my rose tea I'm sipping on.

Focus is not my enemy. In fact, I aim to encourage focus in my daily routines. So much of my day revolves around distracting myself from distractions, seeking that perfect, undisturbed focus. I have playlists designed for a focused afternoon. I have apps to keep me from doom scrolling pinterest and instagram. I even have a specific aroma to keep my mind sharp and my body obedient to focus.

But I ran into a funny reminder this last week, a certain trouble with focus.

But first, have you heard of MicroFiction? I hadn’t until recently.

If you’re wondering about micro-fiction, simply put, it is a story of 400 words maximum (some publications demand 300 or less). It is the epitome of focus. And just like any other piece of fiction (flash, short, novella, novel, script, etc), character arcs, plot, and sequence forge the story. Just, ya know, really compact.

Did I mention that heightened focus is the key tool here? I mean literally every single word counts. So, bust out your unique verb list, and use those contractions (because yeah, those count as 1 word! Grateful for those little things, ya know).

With the rise of photo captions, tweets, blog posts, limited word counts and limited attention span, microfiction grew in popularity over the last few years.

So, earlier this year, my lovely friend Lindsay (she’s a queen poetess) and I tried something new together, a microfiction contest. We were given a theme, a 100 word count limit (heavy sigh) and a week to create a story: a story with a beginning, middle, and end; a story with characters, conflict, and mystery; a story that got to the heart of the problem way faster than normal.

An image of me sitting in the living room debating my next steps

We did it. And guess what, Lindsay made it on the leaderboard. My friend. Her first try, and she nailed it. Seriously, go check out her poetry.

So this was my entry: I actually wrote two because I didn’t really grasp the concept of microfiction (ahem, intense focus).

Since they are so short, I’ll share both with you:

Helping Hands Often Get Dirty

Nearly noon, Rachel noted, the sun looming over her. She walked with hidden urgency; German soldiers didn’t take kindly to rushing.

Emerging from the steeple’s shadow, Rachel’s heart sighed. The market line stretched beyond the boarded schoolhouse windows. There’ll be none left. What was she to tell Manon, the others?

And yet, she must try.

Leaning against the boarded window, waiting in line, they locked eyes.

“It’s late. What kept you?” whispered Marie, cradling her daily issued goods, glancing behind her.

Marie frowned at Rachel’s muddy fingers. Rachel hurled them into her pockets.

“What mess did you get into?” Marie sighed, “I see. Take mine.”

“Merci.” Rachel accepted the small package of meat.

Her Last Day on Earth

“Alex. Marie. Stay close,” Rachel said, hugging her children to her side, shuffling across the dusty path to the end of the B245 line.

The day had finally arrived. The sun rose like it was supposed to, though not as brightly as when she was Marie’s age. What would the sunrise look like from up there?

They neared the gate to Spaceship B245. She gulped the thin air, pressing her bare feet into the dirt, holding onto the warmth of the sand in her toes and the certainty that something would catch her if she fell.

A mother’s screams jolted through the line. Rachel pulled her children closer.

Two guards rushed to the mother screaming, pulling her and the young child apart.

“He’s ill. We won’t allow him on that ship.”

Rachel let go of her children and ran to the mother’s side, whispering in her ear, “I know of a woman. She’ll take good care of him.”

Then the guards carried the weeping woman to the ship, leaving the young boy all alone, destitute, abandoned, barren just like the earth.

Neither represents me well as a storyteller, but Her Last Day on Earth intrigued me -- though I chose not to submit it. I couldn’t make that daunting 100 word limit work. I lacked focus. Really lacked focus -- I was divided between two stories. Can you relate? - this idea of letting go unnecessary bits so I can focus on what is important for this season, and yet, I can’t let go (why yes, Jordan, sometimes focus is really important).

Well, I’m learning. I’m learning to decide what is important for right now. And I’m also allowing myself to change those needs. I’m learning to figure out what requires my focus most for this particular season.

My space girl sketch with complete with her pair of off centered eyes in photoshop.

Alright, so with all that in mind, something funny happened while I was drawing for that space adventure micro story.

I wanted to capture her anxiety for a new world and a sense of longing for the one she has. So I zoomed in really close to focus on her eyes -- where all the emotion happens, right? I did one eye at a time.

I zoomed back out to admire my work (eye roll doubly so). As you can see, her eyes are severely crooked lol.

See, I didn’t quite catch on. I fell into a certain trouble with focus.

As I compare the juxtaposition of Her Last Day on Earth and the supporting illustration, focus is balance. Yes, it’s definitely nose to the grind, classical music, and hiding my phone in the freezer. But it is also standing back, and like a Monet painting, seeing this big picture clearly. And then taking a step closer, unlike a Monet painting, focusing on the details with clarity, keeping that big picture in mind.

A series of my space girl skectches focusing on her face on photoshop

Even when the story only requires 100 words, I need to know that big picture. What is happening in this story. And then, only then, can I write with heightened focus, condensing the words but not the emotion.

And in drawing, similar sort of thing, start with big border shapes -- figure out the big picture. And then, I can begin to fill in the details.

This certainly isn’t something that hasn’t been said before. And you might not even need to hear it. But I do. So here it goes:

Look up, Jordan. Go find a sunset. Soak up a world beaming in a grand landscape, and then slowly watch each little piece spotlight as the sun melts into the world.

So dear friend, depending on your season, I hope whatever you’re focusing on blesses you and your big picture.

Look up,

Ten. We’ve made it ten whole weeks, learning something new and learning it out loud and in public. Thank you for sticking with me. I still have a ton more to go, and I’m so excited.

If perhaps, you are new to the learning in public series, I’d like to welcome you. Here you’ll find the first post introducing the idea of learning something new with courage and vulnerability.