Have you ever had several people tell you the same thing over the course of several days? If I were a superstitious sort, I’d think the universe was sending me a message.
It all started a couple of weeks ago, with my friend Chris’ informal lesson in photography. “As with writing, the photographer’s credo is ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify,'” he wrote in a wonderful letter that accompanied his course. “Choose the theme or subject and then remove all extraneous elements.”
About a week later, a gifted architectural photographer offered similar advice. “If you want to take better pictures, you must be more focused,” he more or less said. My choice of subjects seemed haphazard to him, I think: Buildings, people, pigeons, and tiny nervous dogs all merited equal attention.
Earlier this week, I got the same suggestion from an editor who is helping me assemble a book. And this morning I once again heard the “f” word — FOCUS — from my friend Tom (aka., The Blogfodder).
Over coffee this morning, Tom told me about a man who had spent decades researching and assembling everything he could find on a particular historical topic. Some 40 or 50 years later this dedicated soul had ended up with a 1,200-page manuscript.
To hear Tom tell it, all of that work amounted only to a random heap of paper. The manuscript rambled pointlessly; it completely lacked focus.
Tom’s words gave me pause.
I’ve always been a bit of a generalist: In writing, in photography, and in life. Maybe that’s why I’ve never become an expert at anything. And maybe that’s also why I’ve never made much of an impact.
So this afternoon I was thinking about how focusing might improve my writing or my photography. But after hours of mulling it over, I’ve given up. I can’t choose a single writing discipline or a specific photography style over another. It’s just that I find so many things interesting. I can’t imagine giving up landscapes in favor of buildings — or vice-versa.
In the end, I decided that it’s OK to be a generalist. I may not reach my fullest potential, but I’ve experienced more than some of my more disciplined (read: focused) colleagues. I’ve written plenty of news articles — but also a few radio jingles and a couple of billboards. I’ve also shot weddings and disasters, and pretty much everything in between.
And who knows? In the end, maybe the diversity of my experiences will make me better at my craft.