I gazed at my ponderous brainstorming outline with increasing dismay.
I had thrown in every important (and unimportant) point I could think of, as is fit and proper during a brainstorm. But if I was going to craft this mess into a balanced, aesthetic, easy-to-follow, and powerful story, told in a reasonable number of pages, I was going to need to focus.
So I returned, as I often have since, to the question I first learned in Playwriting:
What is your story about?
Reflecting on this question made my task much clearer. Through the jumble of people, events, and potential chapter titles, a main storyline – rough but workable – slowly appeared. And with each return to that question since, the clarity increases.
It has become a writing mantra. And a question for life.
What’s your Story About?
Focus drives everything about a story, from organization to choice of details. Identifying a specific focus, and returning to it often, helps a writer choose their storytelling angle, order their events, pace their action, and select their descriptive details.
As I’m discovering through my current project, biographies especially require focus. Stories of any genre can be very complex. One story involves the coming together of many stories, and one event will often have multiple levels of meaning. A clear focus is like a lens through which a writer can view and choose events and meanings that will form a united, compelling main story.
A clear focus also gives the writer a ready answer when someone asks about her book. “I’m writing a book” is interesting information. “I’m writing a book about my life with physical disabilities and how I’ve overcome them” is more useful.
It’s tempting to rush into a new story with the first flash of inspiration, carrying only a vivid opening scene or character sketch. These items can be good starting points for pinpointing a focus, and are necessary parts of a story. But in order to get far on any journey, we must fix our eyes on where we’re going.
Application for Life
I have often thought how this same principle applies to life in general. Many of our everyday activities and commitments require us to know what those activities and commitments are about: Why am I in this relationship? What do I want to accomplish in my yoga class? What do I need from the grocery store today? Being able to answer questions like these can help us understand ourselves and our world. They can also help us evaluate our choices and our performance, and adjust them accordingly.
When applied to life as a whole – What is my life about? – a central focus helps us make decisions at all levels by setting priorities. Our life stories are made up of many areas and substories that often overlap or compete for attention and resources. Identifying a central life focus gives us a tool to make sense of the complexity, resolve conflicts, and reorder these many areas into a more manageable whole.
For Christ-followers, our life focus is – or should be – Christ. When we “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV), He reorders our lives, bringing their contents together into a beautiful, united image of His glory and character. We start to look – in our actions and attitudes– more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). Even the progress of this transformation – the writing of this “story” – reveals God’s nature, allowing us and others to view how He works. And since this process (like any story) takes time, we must frequently evaluate and return our focus to this highest of all Focal Points (Colossians 3:1-4).
“[S]eek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness,” Jesus instructs, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NIV) Having Christ as our focus may not always make life less complex or decisions less difficult. But like a skilled writer editing a masterpiece, He provides for every step we take toward Him, transforming the humblest of stories into a God-reflecting narrative of grace.
What are some important aspects of your life? How do you make decisions? How does your focus influence your decisions – and vice versa?