• Scott Herring

Getting into the Zone

I'm reading a surprisingly good book this weekend: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. He is one of my favorite novelists. I envy his ability to draw readers in, to tell his story, to truly understand the characters' thoughts, all with simple, clean prose.

When I write fiction, I write tons of dialog. In sharp contrast, he's a minimalist who makes big art with almost no dialog. This particular book, however, is not a novel. It's, well, a book about running. And writing. And as one who writes and has also run a few marathons, I'm enthralled with Murakami's...storytelling. So when a master speaks, I listen.

A particular lesson he shares is about focus.

In every interview, I am asked what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent.
If I'm asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus -- the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively you’ll be able to compensate for an erotic talent or even shortage of it. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else.

It reminds me of a saying I've heard around baseball fields the past few years: hard work beats talent if the talent won't work hard. I heard that from a father of a good (not great) little league baseball player who is now headed to play collegiate baseball. He outworked kids all the way through, earning a starting position on his (quite large) high school's varsity baseball team. Got talent? Still gotta work!

Confession: Michael's last post calling me a renegade made me blush. My first album purchase was The Clash's London Calling, so renegade life has always been my jam. I've been a reader & writer since first grade, and arguably, I've had some kind of talent all along (I got pretty good reviews in college writing classes anyway). But writing requires consistent effort. I have to get in the zone. I've explained before about my 'gradual' process, but my best writing comes when I can focus.

A few years ago, I wrote an e-book for musicians looking to build their audience. It was a pure content play for a startup. I wrote a blog post every day for 30 days, following an outline I had created beforehand. I woke up early, drank coffee, and wrote. All before a regular day of work. 30 days later, I had 30 blog posts, which when combined, were a decent book. A few weeks later, that book was for sale on Amazon (or available for free if you subscribed to the service). I had not compromised my time to other distractions. I had focused.

Michael has ridiculous talent. I've read his writing, from blog posts to books, for years now (I've even edited a raw manuscript of a book, which was already good). But man, does he know how to focus. At one point, I asked him a favor, and he flat out said no. His explanation was that he was writing a book and wasn't doing anything else. At first I was a little offended. But the reality is that he was locked in on a process, and there weren't spare processor cycles to throw my way. He didn't see anything else. He didn't think about anything else.

So if you have talent, you need focus too. If you don't have talent, you can still BUILD talent by being relentless in your pursuit. Hard work beats talent if talent won't work hard. Give yourself some runway to find your renegade voice. Pursue it. Work at it. Develop it. FOCUS on it. Get in the zone and you'll find yourself doing great work. Write. Edit. Repeat...


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