11/23/2016: On Being A Good Writer

It’s not writing that I’m geared for. I guess I’m not really a “writer,” if that’s the case.

My friend talked about having the muscles/strengths necessary to be a good writer, and you can learn the craft of writing even if you don’t have the strengths to be a good one (6/13/2017 Good as in above average, having whatever it takes to make such a writer worth reading in comparison to other writers). That is, those muscles include things like thinking metaphorically, being able to find and make complex patterns, being able to imagine scenes and sensory items, and a desire to create and share emotive things. Writing is just putting those things into words and different arrangements of words and different arrangements of arrangements of words.

Both parts can be improved by learning and practice, but it helps if either one comes naturally. I think the strengths are probably more important because it’s those things that will make the writing worth reading (think Harry Potter).

But I guess, if I were in my right mind and not worried about not being a “writer,” I could have seen that. I never wrote growing up—not exclusively. I tend to go from thing to thing. I like learning new crafts.

11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.

11/14/2017: On Good Art

Some of my impetus for how I’ve been developing my world depends upon my inability to create without placing the gospel in whatever world I create. I feel like this is a shortcoming in me. I love a lot of worlds that don’t seem to incorporate the Gospel, like Harry Potter and Star Wars. They typically still have good versus evil, but there doesn’t seem to be any presence of God in them (and so no grounding for their good and evil—making them some kind of floating, rootless things, or making them dependent upon the audience’s assumptions about good and evil).

In the real world, good does not exist apart from God. If I am to write about good and evil, how can I not at least underpin it with God, if my world will be a secondary world? I’d have to be contextualizing my stories differently with the assumption that they aren’t like our world—at least not in all ways but only those ways that deal with whatever I would be trying to say. I don’t know if I am a free enough artist to work like that. I don’t know.

So if the central message of Harry Potter is that love wins and ambition loses and yet it doesn’t underpin love as proceeding from God, is it wrong? It’s true that love wins. But is it true “enough?” Is it not just another moral story, feeding moralism, unless a person has all the necessary underpinnings already? But that’s like saying any work of art has to require all prolegomena for their messages. A painting of two lovers on a picnic would have to somehow show their love starting with God to be “true enough.” Or paintings like “Icebergs” would have to show him as the creator to be “true enough.” That’s just silliness.

I wonder if this is some vestige of my legalism, attaching itself to my limited understanding of art. Can we not appreciate the beauty of aspects of life without incorporating all the elements that make those aspects inherently “Christian?” Is love not beautiful even if it’s not visibly connected with God at all times? Is it not beautiful even to unbelievers, and does it not draw unbelievers to God  because it’s first beautiful without reference to God?

That’s an interesting idea. It’s beautiful without reference to God.

The reason it’s beautiful is because God is beautiful and because it is like God, so (5/30/2017 given the absence of sin and its perversive effects) the further into the search for beauty a person goes, the closer he comes to God. It’s the foothills, the distant view through a fog, of God’s character when it’s not visibly connected with him, and it becomes more beautiful as a person comes to see the two in conjunction with each other.

And I think I nailed my problem. I feel the need to make these things “Christian.” Whatever that means. I lack the freedom to appreciate them in and of themselves. Perhaps.

I have found my ability to appreciate art that does not speak of God more and more as I have grown in my belief of Christ and of grace and of the freedom we have from being sinless, from acting sinless, from making ourselves sinless. I have also learned more about what art is—what artists try to do with their art—which is not always representation of the way the world is—at least not in its entirety.

Art that is good, beautiful, and true doesn’t require those things that make it “Christian.” And if it is good, beautiful, and true, if it is subcreation, the creation of cosmos from chaos, it accords with the character of God, even if it doesn’t contain Christianity (or the Gospel, or the Scriptures, or history/future according to the Scriptures) or if it has things that, in and of themselves, do not exhibit Christianity or Christ.

What does “Christian art” even mean? L’Engle says there’s no such thing. There’s just good art. There’s cosmos out of chaos. And if it’s cosmos out of chaos, if it’s true and good and beautiful, it’s closer to God than art that’s “Christian” but that’s not true (or good or beautiful).

So what makes “Christian” art “Christian” to those who feel the need to make it, like I have tended to be? I used to not want to sing non-worship music. I also have not wanted to create worlds that ignore Christ or Christianity without reason that makes sense within our own world. I have not wanted to write about “good” characters who weren’t believers—characters who exist at the same time as us or after us. I think the feelings there had to do with not believing a person could be good without being a Christian and so feeling dishonest in making a story about them. It’s like writing a story about a dog that purs (when the whole world thinks it’s normal for dogs to pur) without explaining why he purs and that dogs should really bark. I haven’t wanted to write stories that ignore Scriptural prophecy about the future or history about the past, creating stories that contradict what really happened.

Perhaps it’s a fear connected with our (mainstream American Christianity’s) defensiveness against those who purport that we are wrong. Any breath that what we believe is wrong, and we become militant—even if people aren’t necessarily attacking us. Even if it doesn’t matter whether they attack or not.

Here’s a thought—people readily acknowledge that sci-fi, that fantasy, that even simple drama is fiction. They don’t take it as real—as depicting real life, reality, what’s real. Why can’t we write fiction that doesn’t include Christianity and be okay with it?

Can a sunset be beautiful even if it’s not overtly connected to the Creator? Can a dollar given to the poor be kind even if the Gospel isn’t spoken? Can an orphan whose parents were killed by AIDs be tragic even if sin’s precedence is never mentioned? Can a story depict good actions without mentioning Christ-like character and those actions still be good? Can a story praise love without naming the one from whom love comes and still be right to do so? Is love not praiseworthy in and of itself, even if it’s God who sits on the throne of praiseworthiness? Who sits on the throne of beauty? Who sits on the throne of goodness? And from whom all these things flow and on whom all of them depend?

Why do I sometimes, or in some of these things, feel the need to qualify them all with “only because of God!” without being able to appreciate them as they are? It’s not like me saying that makes me appreciate God more or appreciate those things more. At least I don’t think it does. It’s like a Christianity censor or something. If it doesn’t explicate Christianity (in all of its parts?), it’s wrong, or bad, or something.

Sidebar: If I’m wrong, and if I’ll change, it’ll be by grace through faith. Just saying.

You can write a story that includes God and Christianity and still be wholly untrue. You can write a story that doesn’t and is wholly true.

Fiction uses untruths to tell the truth. It could be fake people, fake conversations, fake fights, fake worlds, fake races, fake laws of nature, fake histories, fake futures, fake WHATEVERS. It’s fiction. It’s just that whatever you are saying should be true, if it’s to be good art. Cosmos from chaos.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have these “Christian” things. But why the compulsion to have them? Is it just a poor understanding of art? It’s not like I want to say things that have as their meaning (never finished this thought, apparently) …

Esther says nothing really about God or the covenant or anything really. It talks about the Jews, about circumstance (providence—Mordecai’s “for such a time as this” explanation), about the good choice of a woman and how she saved her people by her courage. It doesn’t really talk about her godly character, her faith. AND IT’S IN THE BIBLE. Why was it included? Because its message is true. Because it praises Esther’s courage. Because it’s part of Israel’s history (though not all of their history is included!). Because it hints at God’s sovereignty and his salvation of his people.

(1/19/2017—I marked out the above because the message of Esther is still overtly Jewish—it concerns God’s sovereignty and Esther’s character; I had that feeling as I wrote the paragraph, but I never fleshed it out; instead, I added the following paragraph.)

Perhaps a better example is a story like Samson’s. The contents include a godless man’s success over the Philistines. 5/30/2017 The message concerns God’s goodness to his people even in spite of their wickedness and his sovereignty even over wicked men. If translated into today’s context, it’d be like a story about Mel Gibson winning lost souls through The Passion of The Christ (hey, there you go).  The contents are not Christian. The message is. The message just requires understanding what the author is trying to say, which includes understanding context where necessary.

So I don’t have to write stories that complement historical and organizational Christianity, they don’t have to complement the Scriptures (to the extent that they are orthodox). They aren’t (or don’t have to be) the Gospel, just like not every conversation has to be the Gospel, not every anything has to be the Gospel. In fact, making everything the Gospel strikes me as symptomatic of legalism.

I could write a story that depicts that Christ never existed or was a sham that would still be a true and beautiful and good piece of art. It’s all about what it would be saying by depicting him that way. For instance, “The world would be like this if Christ wasn’t true.” Or whatever.

The issue is, then, what is your message? Is it true? Is it good? Is it beautiful?

I think, ultimately, this is an issue of not understanding art and perhaps defensiveness/sensitivity about my belief system.

Contents and message are different.

With all that said, I am creating a world. I am within my bounds, within the bounds of good art, to create a world that complements the world I live in and has as its underpinnings content that is entirely Christian. It doesn’t necessarily make it bad art.

The question to ask, though, is does the Christian content help it become better or worse art? Does it enhance my message or detract from it? Does it improve the world or not? What’s the message of the world and of creating it as it is (see the document “Thoughts on the Message of My World”)?

1/19/2017 Furthermore, the true message doesn’t have to include all truth to remain true. If art is conversation, and I believe it is, the question should probably just be “What truth do you care to say?”

5/30/2017 Also see “Where the Song is Singing Me” and the rest of the videos on https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/bono-and-david-taylor-beyond-the-psalms/

11/9/2016: Early Editing Notes

I am just now starting the post-first-draft editing process. I am finding the idea that I will have to rewrite large portions difficult. Perhaps I had unconsciously expected that I would go straight into polishing—making things beautiful, moving them where they fit—but not re-drafting what are essentially new first-draft sections. I knew, on the surface, that this would be required, but apparently, it hadn’t sunk in. But that’s what I’m going to be doing. Interesting thought. It’s good I’m doing this. So right now, I’m figuring out what parts need to be redrafted.

It’s a bit of a downer, since I had thought I was done with this part and could move to the next phase. However, perhaps that’s just wrong thinking. I am at the next part. This is significantly different from creating from nothing. I have a framework, a loose but single body of ideas, and the things I now create come from and fit into that framework. THIS is the next phase. Not the final polish, but the filling of gaps, the reworking of broken and ill-fitting pieces, and the rounding of corners. Once I get all the big stuff reworked, I get all the medium stuff reworked, then the smaller stuff, then the miniscule stuff, THEN the polish.

So… how to redraft? Do I just find the parts that don’t fit and start from scratch on them? Write from clusters, write without an end in mind, largely right-brain creation? Or do I try to figure out exactly what needs to be written, exactly what will fit, exactly the right things?

Should I read through sections and visualize what needs to change in them? Perhaps I should read through them and then do the whole first-draft style of those same sections and allow whatever needs to be put back in there back in there. Should I stick to sections in chapters, whole chapters, what? I expect having flexibility in where I change things helps. I’ll get ideas on other parts as I change things.

Another note. I keep forgetting that this is my first time writing a novel and that I’ll have to figure out what I’m doing as I go along. I keep getting road-blocked because I’m not sure how to move forward and don’t have the fearlessness, or perhaps the perception of freedom, to just plow through. (5/16/2017 The intrinsic and ill-timed requirement that what I create must be perfect stifles me more than pretty much anything else. Spackle first, then sand, then paint, then touch up. I take that back. Grab long thin things, like sticks. Put them together. Cover them with something flattish. Keep doing it, using different materials, different configurations until you end up with something to block bugs and wind and perverts. Then punch holes in your wall—just go crazy—and hang pictures and shelves and towel hooks and curtain rods all over. Take things off and move them. Toss some in the dumpster and get some new stuff and try those. Then Spackle the unused holes, then sand…)

At this stage, I’m not sure how much the graph/chart of themes and plot and time help me. All that stuff will probably change, and I’ll just have to make a new chart. Super annoying. Of course, it may be only as a result of the chart that I’ll see something that needs to be fixed… so yeah.

I just wrote some notes on what (my main antagonist’s) island needs to be like, what development needs to be done there. And I also have to develop magic and a ton of other stuff. I wish I had the drive to develop these open ends that I had when I was working on the game with my brother. I suspect that my addiction-breaking has something to do with my lack of motivation right now. Hopefully it ends soon. I have a lot to do.

Rather than charting, I could mark spots in the text (like &&& for finding them later) that relate to themes and then keep a paragraph-form of the developments of those things in a Word document. I would have sub categories of the various relationships of each of the themes. Of course, that means going back through the text.

On all of my developments, I need to make an action list. Otherwise I’ll just forget all the theory (inevitable) and nothing will be done.

9/30/2016: When To Edit My First Draft

Stephen King recommends stepping away from your first draft for at least six weeks. And in the meantime, go write something else. At least until you forget about the first thing. So that when you come back to it, it is an alien thing, and something to whose parts you have little emotional attachment, should you need to alter or remove them.

Would this be the best route for me?

I worry that if I step away, I may forget what it has become in my mind. I have spent all this time developing these characters, these metaphors, these plots, and they are fresh in my mind. What if time-away drops them from my head, and I am not able to pick them back up from a read-through later on? One might suggest that such would indicate that my first draft didn’t communicate what I thought it would. But one could also say that I simply suck at reading.

Also, this is the first of several books in a series. What if starting over causes me to lose my place (see the first point), and I’m not able to progress? At the same time, what if going on without a break leads to a dead end, when I go back and find something that absolutely needs to be removed from book one but upon which a second-book part (or the whole thing) is based. It seems like I’d either need to write all parts and then go back and edit them all or else write them as individual units—finish one before starting the other.

What do I know from experience? A good night’s sleep does wonders for an edit session. There’s something about coming back to it the next day that allows you escape whatever blinders had been developed during its writing—or at least that particular writing session—that you otherwise couldn’t possibly notice. And I have written things and come back to them after quite a while, and it didn’t seem so foreign that my ideas were hard to grasp.

But at the same time, all of those things had been polished before I set them down. I may have made mistakes by not stepping away, but the works benefitted from me being fresh on everything when editing, to be sure.

And maybe that’s the key. Read through it right away, edit it until you’re happy with it, put it away for a while, then read through it again and edit it again. It seems like I’d get the best of both worlds.

I definitely don’t feel ready to let go of the writing process yet—I know, at the very least, my ideas have progressed since my earlier sections, and those sections will need reworking. I know that it’s not unified yet, and I don’t want to lose what I have now before making it unified. Else, I might read it, get the idea I had in the beginning, and then change the ending rather than vise-versa. I would otherwise have to read the end first, almost…

I think I am decided. I’ll go back through it as soon as I have the energy and time to, and I’ll edit it until it’s got a decent polish. Then I’ll set it down and come back to it after six weeks or so.

The Process of Writing Mediocre Modifiers

“Brain. I need a word to describe darkness.”

“What quality would you like to modify?”

“It’s night, and there are no stars, so how about just ‘really dark?’ So, intensity.”

“Would you like a modifier of the same category of contextually-determined primary-quality as ‘darkness?’ Or would you rather something of a different primary quality?”

“Sure. The first one.”

“We have numerous matches whose primary qualities would modify ‘darkness’ to lie within the semantic range of ‘really dark—’”

“And make sure it’s one that’s not used often.”

“How about ‘darkness like coal?’”

“Overused.”

“How about ‘ashen darkness?’”

“That’s just an adjective. And somewhat common. How about we stick to nouns? That’ll make it less common.”

“How about ‘inky darkness?’”

“That’s still an adjective, but I like that it’s really, really dark.

“How about ‘ink darkness?’”

“That doesn’t sound right—not nearly as good as ‘inky.’ It’s something about that appended syllable. What’s a word that’s associated with ink?”

“Blot.”

“How about ink-blot darkness?”

“I do not have an entry for ink-blot darkness.”

“Great. Then it’s novel. We’ll go with ink-blot darkness.”

9/23/2017: On Finishing A Piece

I find myself wanting to know where I’m going before I write. But, “You do know. Your right side is doing its thing. You just can’t tell what it’s doing until you write it.”

Just keep writing. Trust whatever comes to mind at the time (MAKE SURE MY RIGHT SIDE HAS BEEN ENLIVENED?). Distrust looking too far ahead—coming up with specifics or links (?) before actually getting to those points (contra intuits/feelings that encompass potential links without involving specifics). That’s utilizing the left too early, I imagine. And usually it’s a result of “wouldn’t it be cool if X happened?” which doesn’t seem like the process for natural creation. Rather than having some connection within the current content, it seems like a connection between the current content and some outside content. But isn’t that right side connection? I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right for some reason. It doesn’t feel like a part of the cluster. It feels like a separate cluster altogether—like connecting it would be moving toward that other cluster and abandoning the one I am already on.

Intuition—that little voice over which it seems you have so little control but that you can easily stifle. It seems I only have indirect control over it. Intend something else that requires it, and it fires up. Intend it, and only the things required to intend it fire up, whatever those are.

Another thought—if I engage my editing too soon, I may not see the connections from my right side. I may need to write more to see the connections. So if I come up with something that I question—something that just makes me go “Enh,” don’t just throw it out yet. Keep writing and see if it’s got roots. Of course, there are times when my intuition tells me “this doesn’t fit.” But I don’t know how to tell the difference yet. Right now, it’s something I’m thinking of that reminds me too much of The Neverending Story. So it seems like it’s my editing side that wants to get rid of it right away.

1/19/2017 I actually read something that Leonard Cohen said about this. I’m not sure if I wrote about it (I’ll find out), so I’ll write about it here. He said you can’t tell if a gem is good until it’s been cut. He said to finish everything before throwing it out. It’s the process that makes it good.

It’s always nice to figure things out and then find out that some more intelligent person figured the same thing out.