Could the girl who has been variously nicknamed Bubbles and Typewriter suddenly be getting economical with words?
Still, it’s interesting my last two posts had one word titles. It wasn’t planned. Yet as it’s rather a good writing exercise to pick one word and weave a story around it, today I’m going to follow up Perky and Tempo, with Focus.
The study of something’s opposite can be instructive. For example, my diet and exercise regime has gone out the window since I completed my first half-marathon on the 5th October – in a rather good time if I do say so myself - at 1 hour, 47 minutes and 19 seconds. At first I had recovery as an excuse, then a friend’s wedding, then extremely occupied delivering multiple events per day at work. My free time vanished, the weather deteriorated, and I couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed at 6am. This is all true, I have been tired and busy. But the real issue is a lack of focus.
I haven’t been singing. I miss it dreadfully. But why? Lack of time? Yes. But no, lack of focus. This is a dreadful thing for a professional to admit, and it’s no excuse that I have several strings to my bow and currently am working on the other side of the footlights, because if you don’t use your instrument it seizes up. So does your repertoire and employability. Professionals don’t make excuses, they deliver. So, frankly, until I get focus back to singing regularly, get back to coaching and practise, buy a piano to replace the keyboard which died (and the other one still in Italy), then I really can’t call myself a singer. I need to set a goal, get a gig booked, and get back on track.
And Heavens - don’t look at my desk and briefcase, or mountain of unread personal emails and bills, for my home admin is currently a disaster. This isn’t always the case. It’s the side-effect of giving full priority to the contract I am working on – which is crazy busy and because I care about doing a good job in the timeframe I find myself – so I’ve let lots of other things slide. My focus has been work. So it’s no surprise that is where my more recent achievements have been made.
Because if life, at the base level, is simply time... then how we spend our time, how we focus our thoughts and activity, is closely aligned to how we spend our life.
And the remarkable thing, is that when we focus – on whatever or whoever – time expands to accommodate that reach like a photographer’s lens.
Such was the case with my half-marathon training in the first two months of my current contract. Focus kept me disciplined, discipline made best use of my time. I managed to jog and work. I got fitter. Work was easier.
There’s a parallel in something which happened this week.
I enter writing competitions now and again, but once the application has gone in I usually forget about it. However I returned home on Monday night, utterly exhausted after a rough day, and after a bowl of carrot and coriander soup I fell on the sofa like a dead weight. Opening my laptop there was a mountain of stuff I really needed to deal with - not least, giving authority to my sister to attend a Tribunal in Australia on my behalf, because some selfish and irresponsible people rented then trashed my house and would rather not pay me any compensation.
Then one email jumped out at me. I was immediately focused. I was being told I had won a little competition with the Wandsworth Guardian to attend a Writer’s Masterclass at the University of Roehampton. This is the university on my London doorstep, and funnily enough the one I seriously looked into attending for a Masters in Renaissance and Romantic Literature some years ago.
(Don’t ask me why I did a Masters of Commerce instead, as sometimes I don’t know the answer to that question... but such is life, and “way leads onto way”.)
The thing about this email was that the Masterclass was the very next afternoon – with the hugely successful children’s author, Jacqueline Wilson, who is also the recently appointed Chancellor of the University of Roehampton.
But... I hadn’t been thinking as a children’s author since I put the first three books of a (potential) series ‘on the shelf’ where it’s been gathering dust since I finished a writing-holiday in Greece in August 2013. Nor have I been flexing my creative muscles enough generally - even my blogs dropping off due to lack of ‘time’. So to be able to seize this opportunity I was really going to have to focus!
First I had to find my children’s manuscripts on any number of hard drives. Then I had to read them, shake up the grey matter on that side of the brain. (Somewhere in there I slept.) Then I had to get into the office, delegate tasks, clear my diary, work out how to get from Kings Cross to Roehampton by 3.30pm, make sure my boss was happy with this new development (which happily she was), and then turn up at the Masterclass ready to write, read and discuss topics that are a million miles away from delivering a live event, overseeing a theatre, or analysing bar and box-office takings.
Did I do it? Of course I did. And it was wonderful. Wonderful to meet the inimitable Jacqueline Wilson, to hear her stories and be led through some fun writing exercises; wonderful to be in a room with enthusiastic writers, wearing a creative hat. Was there much in the Masterclass I didn’t know before. No. Not for me, because I’ve been putting myself through a disciplined writer’s apprenticeship since 2008 (in a variety of genres) so I am well on my way. But when I had my little children’s books published in the GirlzRock series in 2005 and 2006 I knew one day I’d get back to the place I started. So was this session useful? Absolutely. It was a privilege to be invited. Jacqueline Wilson is a legend, about to publish her 100th children’s book. The Masterclass was stimulating, a much needed personal ‘tune up’ and, above all, an opportunity to relax and focus.
Moreover because of that focus I could refile a few little things in my head... seize upon an image, or collection of words, which Jacqueline used to describe something I hadn’t quite perceived that way... and this will broaden my palette and practice.
Most importantly it reminded me of my desire to finish this series; to do something with it. And it gave me the kick I needed to believe again that I can do it, that my voice is alive and well even if it requires a little shake up.
So, of course I had to write a blog this weekend. Writers write. Joggers jog. Singers sing.
What are you going to do this week that is all about you and what you do?
Because all you need is a little focus.
And because I currently work at Central Saint Martins I must also mention: