Multi-function machines drive my husband a little crazy. We have one now–a television/DVD player combo–and I can see that he is just waiting for it to go blooey. The idea being that when you ask something to do more than is necessary, the design will be weaker than it might otherwise be and all sorts of trouble will ensue. We took this attitude, I remember, toward those cribs that convert into toddler beds when the kids were little. Better, we thought, to invest in something that was what it was and nothing more, something that performed a single function elegantly and very well.
I feel this way about my writing sometimes.
I recognize, on one hand, that having lots of fragments with which to fiddle, several projects over which to obsess, and more than one genre in which I can competently write is lucky. Continual wellspring.
But I am not a natural multi-tasker, and, if I’m honest, my ability to “buckle down” and focus deeply has been in steady decline over these last few years. Some days–today, for instance–I sit in front of seventeen open Word documents and feel dizzy and stuck. Some days (today), I wish I was able to do only one thing–poetry, maybe, since that’s where I began this madness–so that at least the question of genre would be settled and out of my hands.
That’s a silly thing to say, of course. It’s not as if I don’t have the ability to write (for instance) fiction, after all. I could learn if I wanted to. I just tell myself over and over that I am NOT a fiction writer. Therefore, I cannot write stories or novels. It’s not up to me! It’s not my fault! A fiction all its own.
And another related fiction: the belief that if I could just finish the memoir; if I could just get my full-length poetry collection taken somewhere, I would be free to choose a new thing and begin fresh without the constant distraction of the loose end.
Specialist or generalist is the question, I guess.
Neo-Formalist Poet (I’m not, but it’s an example at one extreme)
What, you didn’t know I wrote erotica? Well if I’m going to be a
dizzy, unfocused, dilletante generalist, I might as well have some fun with it, no?