It’s harder than you think. Ann Patchett nails the essential skill novelists, cooks and people in general need to master: focusing on one thing at a time.
I take my daughter to soccer class once a week. She’s two. The class consists of some running, a small amount of kicking, and a ton of chasing bubbles.
Occasionally, she decides she’s had enough; there’s an activity she doesn’t want to participate in. As a parent, I feel a tiny compulsion to step in and convince her that she does want to participate and, failing that, that she has to because she’s being asked to do.
But I don’t. Because my daughter is right. We’re not going to soccer class so that she can learn to follow instructions or develop patience or even “become socialized” to other children, though those are all fine side benefits. We’re going to soccer to have fun.
And what’s the point of doing things for fun if we don’t enjoy them? The hard-hitting documentary that critics say you must watch? You don’t have to watch it, and definitely not on your cherished Friday night off. The IPA with extra hops that your buddies say you have to try? Just order PBR, if that’s where your tastebuds are at. And if you’re at soccer class and are tired of kicking the ball, take a break. It doesn’t always mean you’re not open to trying new things — rather, it means you know what you don’t like to do for fun.
Most people write too much. Remember that three page essay in junior high? We clawed and scratched and cajoled that word count higher. But guess what? The essay still sucked. We took 1,000 words to express a thought that could have fit in a paragraph. And when we turned it in, we hoped the teacher wouldn’t notice we had only read the first 20 pages.