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May 19, 2008

12 Simple Ways to Narrow Your Focus and Expand Your Sense of Purpose

Purpose: idea or aim kept before the mind as the end of effort; power of seeking the end desired; act or fact of purposing; a useful function; a definite intention

This month’s theme is writing with purpose

Over the last week or so I’ve been shifting my focus from powerful to purposeful writing.  It got me thinking about how this themed approach helps me to blog: to plan, to draft, to daydream, to read, to link, to edit, to write with a greater sense of purpose.

Which seems like a good a place as any to open this month’s theme.

The decision to narrow my focus, 12 times a year, helps me to write – with intention, with an end in mind, with a strong sense of purpose. 

It also just helps me to write.

The constraint of the topic, the narrowing of the focus, acts like a prompt to the creative, unconscious mind, generating idea after idea about ways to explore it, to dive into it, to ask others to talk about it, to write about it.

Okay, so my headline’s a bit of a cheat.  It’s 1 way to write with purpose, repeated 12 times a year. But it does bring at least 12 powerful benefits.  Focusing on a theme a month has helped me to:

  1. Get creative, exploring one topic from a variety of angles over the month
  2. Read with a purpose, whether that’s other blogs or books I want to review
  3. Link with a purpose, to material that extends my understanding of the theme
  4. Encourage reader participation by setting a clear framework at the start
  5. Involve guest authors, by inviting contributions on a specific theme
  6. Stay interested and motivated in what I’m writing about
  7. Generate material that I can use for books and courses
  8. Develop my own understanding and appreciation of the topic
  9. Beat writer’s block: there are always more posts in my head than time to write them
  10. Plan ahead for a week or a month, knowing what I’m going to write about
  11. Stay on topic, without getting overly distracted by noise on the internet
  12. Enjoy a sense of purpose when I write

It might seem a conundrum but the decision to narrow my focus has helped me to expand my sense of what’s possible in terms of what I can cover in a month and how I feel about my subject, my writing and my blog over the course of the year.

Now I’m not claiming to be an authority like Lorelle Van Fossen but I was struck by a similar sense of purpose, authority and expansiveness in this piece on narrowing your focus:

The best part of blogging with a narrow blog focus is that I have less self doubt about my abilities and my ability to blog. I know my subject matter. I know it from a variety of perspectives. I’m constantly challenging my information, resources, sources, and expertise as I write on the subject from different angles and points of view.

(If any of you are thinking about your blog focus I’d thoroughly recommend  her article: Blog Struggles: Why Should Your Blog Have A Focus)

The shift to a monthly theme has transformed my blogging experience, and to be honest I find it hard to imagine this blog without it.  In some ways I know I’ll only be able to slow down and write less if and when I decide to drop the monthly theme and write what comes into my mind. 

Which might be good for my time – but wouldn’t give me the same sense of purpose.

How does the focus of your blog affect your writing purpose? Have you experimented with different ways to narrow or expand your focus? What kind of difference does that shift in focus make?


Linked posts:

Blog writing with a purpose
Linking with intention
How to read feeds without driving yourself mad

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

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Comments

I really look forward to exploring this theme. I started blogging a year ago and 3 distinct themes have emerged (I think): life & purpose, social media, visual inspiration. I do wonder whether I need to split my "life & purpose" posts elsewhere. Will read your pointers and links above. Thanks!

Hi Jasmin, it's not easy is it? Especially when blogging unleashes our creativity!

I started with a coaching blog, then started writing here - and found my voice. Although I enjoyed the other blog I just couldn't find the time or energy to run with two... so I'd counsel some caution if you're thinking about splitting off and running with more than one!

Multiple strands can work so long as there's a unifying voice or set of values or sense of purpose... don't you think?

But Lorelle's article is a great place to start - it's part of a series on blog struggles including pieces on focus so you might well find some food for thought there.

Best wishes

Joanna

I know you and I have discussed this in person, but it probably pays to share it here. The focus of my blog comes from a set of values that add up to my driving belief that everyone is special and should be appreciated for being so.
I just love the themes that you choose for Confident Writing! I look forward to exploring writing with purpose with you this month. I have a feeling that it'll resonate with a lot of your readers.
Amy
xx

Amy, I think value based blogs are the best sort of all. In fact it was sitting and down and working out my values - the ones I was expressing here, that underpinned my writing and my approach as a coach - that generated the themes I now work to.

It's definitely helped to shape and develop my blogging - and the sense of purpose I have in my work.

All credit to Rosa who got me started on the values/themes idea. You see how alike we 3 are!

Joanna

Joanna, great topic, again! I look forward to conversation about focus and purpose very much. These are challenging areas for me. My focus shifts quite a bit, and sometimes it feels as though my purpose gets lost in the shuffle. Terry Starbucker's recent post on the topic really hits home.)

You pushed my button, Joanna, with the first of your three ending questions. The day I discovered my blogging purpose was the day I discovered my voice.

When I began to focus on the theme of "lessons learned from life", overlaid with a storytelling format, it all became clear, as if the fog had parted and I could see the light ahead of me. (Sorry; I know that's a bit poetic, but it describes pretty much what it was like for me.)

It's like looking through a telescope - you have to fiddle with the focus thingie for a bit, but when things are finally clear, oh, the things you can see!
My purpose became pretty much laser-clear after that. Now it's a matter of finding new and creative ways to explore the theme while staying true to it.

Lots of fun, to say the least, especially when I get to meet so many nice people from around the world!

Brad, I think they're challenging areas for all of us. I feel lucky to have fallen into a topic and purpose that works for me. I know it won't necessarily always be so...

The conversation at Terry's site - his question and the conversation that follows - was very interesting, and revealed how many people are grappling with similar issues.

Here's the link for anyone else that's interested

http://www.terrystarbucker.com/2008/05/15/a-blogger%e2%80%99s-debate-%e2%80%93-and-a-request-to-join-in/


Joanna

Robert, that's a brilliant description of what it feels like when you narrow your focus, expand your purpose and find your voice! Thank you :-)

Joanna

Focus really does help creativity. I work with a coach who will occasionally throw out a single word prompt, one to be used 10 days straight, no excuses. Last one was *pencil* and I ended up with a short story, an epigram, a poem about mental illness, a humorous poem, plus 5 more. I would never have traveled in so many directions without that simple focus word.

Amazing how the mind creates. And it is great fun, too!

Oops, that only added up to 9. I really did do ten. :-)

My take on focus is that my blog is like a series of snapshots. The subject is moving and I am moving. Like a photographer and his model neither moves especially far from each other, no two photos are exactly the same but they all have the same feel; these aren't passport photos. So, I try and vary my angle but still stay true to my own voice, sometimes a close-up topic, other times a wide-angle shot. This requires constant refocusing. The question I keep asking is: How can I make this the same but different? My broader goal is to produce a consistent set of blogs (my portfolio) within certain parameters – I'm not going to suddenly start blogging about politics or knitting – but at the same time I don't want to bore my readers by indulging my interests overly much. It's a challenge. I had a friend once who took photographs of trains, his dogs and his girlfriend and that was it.

Bo, focus really does make a difference doesn't it? Either the topic/prompt or the 'constraint' of the form. Thanks for sharing your experience with the 'pencil' prompt - don't worry, the story works well regardless of the maths!

Joanna

Jim, thanks. It's a great analogy.

The joy of finding your voice is that you can then explore different subjects through the same lens (to mix my metaphors...)

I like the way you put it here:

"So, I try and vary my angle but still stay true to my own voice, sometimes a close-up topic, other times a wide-angle shot."

That helps to keep things fresh for your reader, and for you, while retaining a consistent thread or voice that runs through and connects it all.

Joanna

Joanna,

I see a parallel here with our school district's insistence on teachers posting essential questions in classrooms. Though we may grumble at times, the EQ does help to give focus and direction to lesson and unit plans.

This is something I should keep in mind while considering what to post about.

Thanks for getting me thinking!

diane

I have been monthly writing and nutrition focused topics for years. It works! One post or newsletter outlining the topic and 4 feeding into the theme or related somehow. I felt that was enough for an email audience

I applied that same logic to my blog

Last month I decided to recap the focus ( which happened to be on being green ) on the last day of the month and found I had done 13 posts on the topic. I wasn't particularly trying to do so many but the truth is - I actually ran out of time - i had so many things to write about - yet those 13 posts really got my name out in that arena and I felt it was a more focused month

I plan to try the same technique this month for woman's health

good conversation here joanna

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