Flow versus Focus
It was fifteen years or so ago, but I remember the first time I met Leonard.
You meet Leonard in the November issue of Fourth Comings. Odd character, that Leonard.
He’s a reader, and a bit anxious, too. You’ll see.
When I first met Leonard, I was in the midst of flow. That’s why I remember him so clearly—it was because of flow. Flow happens to writers. When it happens, flow leaves a trace of excitement on the mind. That's what I remember, that trace of excitement. For a while in that writing of fifteen years ago, Leonard captivated me.
There’s exhilaration in the midst of flow. Words tumble from the mind into the fingertips, through the keyboard, onto the laptop screen. It is as if there’s nothing else in the world. Those flowing words don’t care much about grammar, and they often get mixed up in the hurry to make their journey. It’s so full of entrancement.
Characters like Leonard appear. Once Leonard came to occupy the screen, as his writer I was eager to get to know him, see what he had to say for himself, see what he would do. I was just so curious how his story was going to turn out, so hoping he’d be okay. I kept writing to find out.
Then I knew. A couple of thousand words and then he was . . . well, if you've read to the end of Leonard’s story in November’s Fourth Comings on this website, you would know too.
In a way, now as I remember him, he was me. I realize that now, but I’d never admit to it back then. I just thought of him as someone I met, met in some odd corner of my mind.
Recently I went back to Leonard, figured to spruce him up a bit, make him presentable for the website.
No longer in the midst of that flow, I could see in Leonard’s story a wrong word here, an awkwardness there. He has run on sentences. In the midst of flow, I’d never noticed those things, or just thought that they’d somehow be okay. But a writer just couldn't let the poor guy out in public reading like that. So I had to sit down and focus, sit down with focus, smooth out the wrinkles, and then the wrinkles that were underneath the wrinkles. And then, back through it again—there is yet more to find, more to correct. And again. Five more times, then more.
Focus is an entirely different sort of writing energy than flow. Flow says “there it’s done, perfect!” It is completely irrational that way. Focus says “hold on a second, that’ll never do, fix it, and that, and over there, that’s a mess too.”
Flow is about being so caught up that nothing matters other than the stream of words. In focus, every word matters—every comma, every punctuation choice. It uses the delete key a lot. In the process, there’s a whole lot of “ah, that’s better.” Enough of it to be the reward to keep working. Eventually it’ll be good enough—not perfect, but getting there.
All the while during the hard work of focus, Leonard just stood in the midst of his words, perhaps relieved because he had been a bit worried—I told you that, you remember—but now with a greater sense of pride. After a good bit of focus, Leonard stands taller. You can see that. It’s really quite amazing how he turned out.
November 2021, Fourth Comings. Leonard awaits you there.