The Best Way to Focus Is to Say “No”

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Steve Jobs has this quote:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

I like the idea of sitting down, being selective, and just going at it. Sometimes there will be this sentence or this terribly over-wrought phrase — sometimes it’ll be the phrase that inspired me to write anyway — and I’ll rework everything in the story to fit it. But it’s just not right. The rhythm is off or the jokes are off. The sentence makes no sense, and I had to put in a dud sentence to make everything flow. It’s just dumb, but that phrase or sentence will shine through. Does that make it all worth it?

No. Because that’s not the point. No one’s going to read through passive, lesser sentences and keep going. Those are just filler. They’re not being brilliant or adding anything innovative. They’re just there.

When I write, I have to focus on saying what I want to say with precision. I need to make sure my word choices count and that the meaning comes across. The best way to do that is to edit and cut out — say “no” to those sentences and don’t be afraid to backspace or start over. It’s just better in the long run.

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