Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Focal Living

The following contains summary quotes of the section of the same name in the book: 

The Way Is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago

Focal living helps us identify and perceive . . . a quality of life that we miss and long to find. . . When existence seems shallow and unfulfilling, focal concerns can “center and illuminate” our lives. . . Focal concerns are objects, activities, or practices with several qualities. (p, 134-135)

They take energy or effort; they make demands on us.  They require discipline, attention and focus.  And they are beyond our control and beyond our ability to manipulate or consume.   (p. 135)

. . . [They] have deep and evident connections with the wider world. (p. 135)

. . . [F]ocal realities have “centering” or orienting power. They help us experience and be in touch with something “as greater than myself and of ultimate significance.” (p. 135)

He urges us to practice focal living with these four affirmations:

There is no place I would rather be.

There is nothing I would rather do.

There is no one I would rather be with.

This I will remember well.



This is an example of focus.  At the time I was sitting on my deck at my cabin and this moth landed on my kindle.  I coaxed it onto my shirt where I could photograph it better.  There was no place I would have rather been, nothing I would have rather done, no one I would have rather been with (my husband had just stepped inside), and I will remember it well.  I will remember my posture in the chair as I leaned back with my feet on the seat of the picnic table in front of me.  I remember my Kindle but not what I was reading.  I remember the fresh smell of the forest in the breeze and the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker on the sumac branch nearby. 

That is focal living.  It required discipline to stay still, pay attention to the moth (and to all else around me), and focus.  The breeze, the aroma, the music, and the moth, were not mine to manipulate.  All had connections to the wider world of nature and nature’s God.  And there was certainly a centering power as I was completely alive in that place with the moth.

Focal living can take place anywhere.  It is happening now as I communicate with myself and you through this writing.  It is present when I work on computers or make dinner.  It is present when I eat with friends or spend time in a good book.

Pay attention to life and focal living.  What are some of your focal moments?


Monday, August 20, 2012

Five Errors Every Successful Writer Must Avoid

  1. 256px-US_Navy_020712-N-5471P-010_EOD_teams_detonate_expired_ordnance_in_the_Kuwaiti_desertPassive sentences.  Modern readers want action.  If you are writing sentences where your main character is being acted upon, rather than acting, change the sentence.  If you say that will make your writing to repetitive, change your paragraph.  Change is always possible.
  2. Insufficient detail.  This is the bane of my rough draft.  Always insufficient detail.  I use subsequent drafts to fill in details, to give color to the passage.  Anyone can write:  Joe walked to the store and bought some groceries.  How dull is that?  What if Joe ambled along the sidewalk.  The trees hung low that autumn day covered with birds, flocks of them, like a shroud.   Perhaps they were oriels, he mused.  This was Baltimore, after all.  Or maybe they were common sparrows. He kicked a stone into the street, and watched it clang against the side of the red Ferrari before it fell into the gutter.  He wondered whether he should pretend like nothing had happened or run like all get out.  He picked up speed and glanced behind him.  Were they simply intent on an errand as he was or were they after him? 
  3. Describing and explaining rather than showing.  Get rid of adjectives and adverbs and concentrate on verbs.  I don’t mean to actually cut adjectives and adverbs because we do need them, but to focus on the verbs.  I could have written that Joe walked to the store. His gait was slow and careless.  He walked uncaringly.  But isn’t it much more compelling to get rid of slow, careless, uncaringly and instead use the verb “ambled”?
  4. Participle/Infinitive Verb Phrases.  Waiting for Godot, she thought he would never come.  How about instead, She waited for Godot. . . and waited. . . and waited.  She thought he would never come.
  5. Lack of sentence variety.  No one wants to read sentence after sentence of the same structure and complexity.  Run, Pete Run.  Run, Spot, Run.  Run, Jane, Run.  Pete ran to the store.  Jane ran to the pool.  Spot ran in circles.  Vary your sentences.  Just as you would not want to read the simple Subject-Verb-Object sentences back to back, over and over, so you would also want to avoid successive long or complex sentences.  Writing has a rhythm and as you read and write you will find that rhythm.  All of the previous errors are often caused by the writer trying to avoid monotonous sentences.  Sentence variety can be achieved without writing badly.  Look over your own writing and see where you might make changes.

What are your biggest problems?  What are some ways you avoid them?