Recently I’ve been offering guidance to a young woman on Purpose and Structure.
These two concepts sound more lofty than they are. When I talk about Purpose, I’m describing the sense of having a thing to do, a reason for moving for one spot to the next. Structure is the sense that you are accountable to being somewhere and doing something.
This young woman is setting off on an unconventional path; she’s moved away from the direction that her old friends have taken and is touring the margins of life. The experience says something to her, and she’s gaining confidence in the idea that the conventional way isn’t for her.
My guidance is that without a sense of purpose and structure, her life will start to wander and she’ll lose the opportunity to build a happy and rich set of experiences.
The advice might sound daunting, but it’s really pretty basic.
This young woman is a very talented writer. Her voice sparkles and she sees the soft humanity in the pathos that can weigh people down.
Whatever you do, don’t stop being a writer. Don’t look to anyone else for validation. Don’t doubt your worth just because you’re operating outside of the traditional venues of achievement and recognition.
Every day write 1000 words. Let this be your purpose and your structure. Let your curiosity carry you into life, but don’t ever turn your back on your gift.
Because you are outside of the norm, are defying convention, people will challenge you with doubt and fear. Don’t let their doubt, their disapproval, their lack of understanding build a chasm between you and your work, your words, the things that you see and write.
I’m confident in this guidance. If she can find this one anchor and wedge it strong against the foundation of her imagination she can build a life that lets her experience richness and excitement, a feeling of freedom and engagement.
And, just as I am confident in my words, I am frustrated with my own actions.
Over the past two months, I’ve lost my way on a longer project that I have been working on. It’s a story about love, misfortune, anger and shame from the early part of the last century.
I’ve finished the base research that I needed to tell this story and have a broad outline of the narrative flow. Now I need to just write it out, bit by bit, a 1000 words every day, until I get to where it makes sense to stop.
But I’m not. Last night, for instance, I got back to my hotel at a reasonable hour and planned on re-engaging with the project. I don’t even need to go back to what I’ve written. I know the last image — a young girl walking with her father down a crowded city street to a new place of business he’s opened, excited by her father’s subdued energy and the sense of a new beginning — and just need to hit the return on the typewriter and get the next line going. When I got to the room though, I drifted off task, read a little, watched a show, lost the time, feeling weary, just plumb tired.
That’s the frustration: that I can offer guidance with passion and conviction to my young charge, but have so little ability to apply it myself. That my project sits there so clear in my imagination and so far away from my self-discipline. That I can’t offer myself the grace of a true purpose, an affair with the imagination and the confidence of structure.