February 16, 2016 - If I were to pick one element as the most critical to master for effective writing, it would be focus.
We know this concept in shamanic work as “intention” and the often-repeated phrase, “One journey, one intention.” Everything that happens in a shamanic journey is related to its intention. If we have more than one intention, we don’t clearly know which one each part of the journey is addressing, and the journey loses its power. It’s the same way with writing. If we don’t have a single, clear intention – or focus – in our writing, it is much more difficult for the reader to pick up on the true power of our words.
In recent years, I have spent quite a bit of time writing and editing K-12 science lessons to meet New Generation Science Standards. Often, part of my job has been to write or answer discussion questions for teachers to use at the end of the lesson. I discovered this was quite an effective tool for seeing where the lessons were focused or not focused. It forced me to ask, “Where will students find the answer to this question in the lesson? How can these questions help students move from curiosity to facts to processes and finally to creative thinking from a larger perspective,” and, most importantly, “What is the point of this lesson, anyway?” More often than I care to remember, the key learning point of the experiment or project would be lost in all the words around the activity, or the data analysis would be interesting and follow from the experiment, but it wouldn’t actually answer the problem the students were supposed to solve. (This is why we have editors.)
It is so important – in any kind of writing – to have a clear focus. This allows us to show the reader where we are going, start where they are, and lead them through to a powerful transformation. Ideally, when your book (or project) is done, every chapter, every section, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word should align with your focus. If not, take it out!
If this seems like a lot of work, it is! But it is good work, and when it is done you and your readers will get to enjoy a book that has clarity, intention, and with any luck, a powerful “aha!” moment of truth in the end.