- Warm up vignette first. It will remind you to love your writing and will take some of the droll that can come with the wrong approach to writing.
- Don’t edit something just because it needs to be edited. It all needs to be edited. Read and do the work that calls you. Think of it like a conversation. You don’t have to drive through every topic that comes up. Drive through the ones that draw you. And stick with the conversation long enough, and you’ll have driven through each and every section of your book.
- Don’t postpone something you want to do because it will take time. Do it now, while you want to.
- Try not to get too bogged down in grammar and polish. At the same time, don’t necessarily ignore them. They just have a tendency to bog things down. To make you too linear and not nearly as right-brained and emotionally involved as you should be.
- With that said, don’t get too linear. Feel free to jump around. Stop wherever you feel led to. Start over whenever you want.
- Read what you’re editing a lot. Read perhaps more than you write. Read over and over. Read sporadically. Read in order.
- And think. Read and think. And when I say think, I’m really talking about active quiescence. Daydream. Let your mind wander as you read and think about what you’ve written. Wait and let thoughts come to you. Read slowly.
- Remove distractions, so those thoughts can come to you.
- Unfinished things don’t have to be finished right now. Leave them unfinished until you’re led to do something with them, even if that’s to delete them. Also, whatever is next (after editing something) doesn’t have to finished right now. Work on whatever you’re led to. I relate it to writing a poem. You find bits that don’t really fit, but because you don’t know what will fit, you don’t necessarily have to replace those bits right away. You might reshape them some, but it’s in the reshaping of the whole poem that you find out if they fit or not and how you can change them to fit. So don’t feel like you have to know or polish what each part is when you come to it.
I have been making a lot of “development documents” for the novel, but I typically just draft when writing shorter pieces. I know I have a tendency to do development documents for things I’m afraid of getting wrong, and I think I also do it for the novel because I haven’t wanted to do “unnecessary work,” knowing how much time might be “wasted” if I write things that’ll just be thrown out.
In my drafting process, I read what I have over and over again, and when I do, if something strikes me as needing to be changed, I do it. Often this brings something else to mind or sight that needs to be changed, so I do that as well. And I keep reading and changing. And as I do, my vision for the piece changes. I can start with one idea or right side image or left side pattern and end up with something completely different because of how the little changes end up redirecting me. It’s a lot of work. It can takes hours upon hours for a single poem. I have started poems that didn’t rhyme and were about one thing that end up rhyming and being about something else—all because of adding individual changes and finding other things that match them or need to be thrown out and feeling what things go together or not.
And another description of the drafting process—sitting there, active quiescence, reading, mulling, until something pops up to add, remove, or change. Lots of reading, sitting, thinking, mulling.
Pre-thinking looks different. It’s all about finding things I don’t know or don’t know how things fit and then trying to figure out how they do before actually making changes in the draft. It ranges from figuring out how sin works in my world to figuring out what the theme is to figuring out how to make the parts I know are there fit with other parts to fit the theme, even if it means changes things or adding things to do so. But it all happens outside of the draft.
I think I had forgotten what it feels like to draft. I’ve been doing semi-daily poems, and I’m getting back into what it’s like to go from clustering to polishing in a day or two. It’s kind of addicting. Depending on how well a piece clicks, I get to a point where I just don’t want to put it down until it’s perfect. It hasn’t been the same with much of the book (though it did happen sometimes).
I doubt either one is the only way to do it or the best way to do it all the time. I suspect there are times when one is better than the other. But I know that I pre-think whenever I’m afraid. I do it in all kinds of contexts.
One of the worst things is writing when I’m not feeling it. It kind of just drolls on. But one of the best things is writing when I’m feeling it. I can’t stop it.
There are some benefits of the drafting process that I’m missing. For one, it means reading the piece over and over, which means knowing it very well. That’s a good thing, given how long it is and how much stuff is in it. It also means I’ll only change or add or remove things when I get the feeling things need to be changed. This means no droll writing. The book may not end up where I planned or plan, but it will end up at a place that’s polished and that I become convinced is what it should be. I think that conviction will go a long way.
I was thinking of a metaphor when I was playing with my daughter during her bath. She has those foam letters, and she was sticking them on the wall one random letter at a time trying to make a word. She didn’t know what word, she was just sticking them up there one at a time until she got an idea for one and then finishing that word off. We started with EAT, then EATFOOD, then EATFOODISKR3M (eat food ice cream—we supplemented unavailable letters with numbers), and on until it became EATIC6CR3M (eat ice cream). She knew more and more what she wanted to write as we added letters and then words. That’s just about the best metaphor for the generative process that I could ever find. You don’t know where you’re going. You just go. You add. You rearrange. You throw out. And when you get the little light, like a match on a fuse, it just goes, and it gets more and more focused until you have it. But you got to keep putting stuff up there until you do. And isn’t that light just the trial-web shift? The random letters is the trial web. It shifts as/when you focus.
What about when I come across those things that I don’t know and just feel like I have to know before I move on? It’s like if I was writing about God and came across something about him I didn’t know—something like “Does God change? Depending on the answer, what I’m creatively connecting could either be really great or heresy.” It seems like in those cases I need to know the facts first. Who is Lithoth? What are h’lae like? What happened to Gus to make him who he is? What did the fall look like? Those all seem like prolegomena upon which the generation of the story depends.
Surely that part of me that finds connections has to be convinced of the truths behind those connections before I can comfortably make the connections. Else I’ll wonder, “Can these be connected, or is this completely wrong?” And since my world is supposed to be a realistic world, it seems like a lot of things need to make sense before I can creatively connect them in a story. Lots of things need to be worked out logically before they can be acceptable within my image.
And to some degree, that’s what I do when I’m drafting. If I find that a stanza needs something to introduce it, I write another stanza before it. I do that kind of thing with the development documents sometimes.
The big difference is when I use the development documents to figure out the themes or plots or character arcs and then rearrange things so that the themes make sense—without ever make changes in the text. It helps me understand how things fit into the themes (organize), but it lacks the spontaneity and feeling of the drafting process. It feels wrong, but I don’t know why.
I wondered if perhaps my distaste for just writing where things “need to be changed” (as a result of my development documents) is a sign that I should stick to poetry or other shorter things. That novels are just too long and dull to keep my interest—too much busy work (though I should point at that this was not as much the case when I was writing the first draft—it was the case sometimes, as I suspect it always is when just putting foam letters up without feeling any light is). But perhaps it’s more of a sign that I should be drafting more. There’s definitely no life in taking those logically developed changes into the text. Not in and of itself.
I’m glad this came up. It may mean I’ve done a lot of not so great or productive work—at least as far as the novel is concerned—but it means that I’m learning. Or perhaps relearning.
Also, even if I didn’t learn anything when writing, say 10 chapters that I end up deleting, it’s still worthwhile. It’s not wasted time. It’s a necessary part of the best process for writing. So when I’m afraid of not being productive, I need to remember that it’s less productive to only develop logically than it is to develop with both sides and delete three quarters of what I write. That’s the only way to grow and flourish and focus what the writing is to become—to cut and polish the gem.
Another thought. If I compare my poems to my novel, if I am drafting, I should be writing scenes, or units, all out of wack. Moving them around. Writing out of order. Writing up ahead or behind. Removing scenes by the armload. Interchangeably writing scene-focused and multi-scene-focused.
One thing comes to mind. Me developing apart from drafting reminds me of how I wrote that first short story about the magician and how my reader said it was super predictable. I had concluded that I was writing mostly left-brained and that the development outside of the writing was one way I was doing that. I wasn’t exploring or playing. I was trying to make things fit without exploring or playing. I was afraid to play. I think it takes both—both exploring and trying to make things fit. But it’s trying to make things fit as I explore, and I think the exploring comes first.
I fear that I am in the same boat now. And I think fear is probably the culprit. I’m afraid of it not fitting or making sense. I’m afraid of the theme not being robust or complex or impressive or beautiful or emotional or rich… And in fear, I’m trying to force it to fit instead of playing with it. It takes both.
Another thing. I remembered (and developed) all this as a result of regularly writing poetry. It reminded me what the process is like when it clicks. I should keep doing this short, experimental practice stuff. It well help sharpen me and keep me sharp.
Could the other come first at times? When would it be good for the making things fit to come first? Perhaps when there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. And maybe that’s it. Those problems come up as your exploring-fitting. It seems like you’d be vacillating between exploring-fitting and fitting-exploring. I think I remember Rico even saying something about that. But unless it begins with a problem that needs to be fixed—and this novel did not—then it begins with exploring-fitting.
How should I edit my Learning By Keyboard documents prior to posting them?
The temptation is to appear to know all things. To be a superlative thinker and writer.
I read through these things I dealt with months ago, I find things that I have since corrected (in my thinking), and I want to change them to represent what I think now. I don’t want to appear like I don’t know something.
But aren’t these documents supposed to reveal my inner dialogue to others? And isn’t their purpose, when writing them, to learn? And in learning, isn’t the assumption that I don’t know?
Even now, posting something new, I should assume that I will post some falsity. Else I’ll never post anything, since to the degree that I progress, I will always find mistakes.
And again, isn’t my foray into the public in the vein of dialogue? Relationship? That means vulnerability—people seeing me as less than perfect. As human. (10/17/2017: Not a brand).
My tendency is to (attempt to) set myself apart. Or above, rather. I want to surpass everyone else. At least in whatever things I have been convinced matter, which ranges from video games (now defunct) to my ability to figure things out. But I’m learning, or perhaps relearning or developing, that humans were designed as a community of individuals. It’s both, so I don’t believe in the diminution of individuality. But to the degree that you’re set apart, you’re removed from the community.
It’s the difference between standing above and standing beside others.
And if Christ’s example teaches us anything, we stand beside each other. With each other.
So what does this mean for my posts? I don’t think it necessarily speaks directly to the editing. But it speaks to the ground-level desire to appear knowledgeable. And I wonder if I should deny the desire to edit old mistakes or to qualify them with commentary merely to deny myself this desire.
Of course, if these posts were didactic, I would have reason to correct them before posting in an effort to protect others from what I know (or think) are mistaken ideas. But that’s not my intent, really. I want to also show my process of thinking and learning. If someone learns something for the things I learn, great.
This reminds me of something else. I think a much better approach to interaction with others—from the closest circles, like my family and church and work, to the furthest, which is the world and even what might be beyond—is to walk beside them. To seek truth and love and beauty, and ultimately and primarily, God, beside others. To learn together, rather than to learn on my own (as if that were really possible) and then to disperse my golden wit to the street-rats of lesser faculty (!). I have already written about this.
I need growth in this area. And perhaps by posting things that reveal my fallibility, I will grow. And if anyone learns from what I learn in the writing of these, we will learn together.
Furthering this idea—this is little different than posting things that I am thinking through now, like this very document, and knowing that I will later make corrections upon them. The same principles go for all writing, all dialogue, all interaction with others. The same correction—that I should seek what’s good alongside others—applies both to the present and the past.
Another thought. If I wrote something that I now know is wrong but didn’t write the correction to that thing in a later document, to protect others from believing that thing, I could add a commentary.
Am I neurotic or what? Goodness. Ha.
So, how should I edit them?
- Fix grammar/typo issues if it makes things too hard to read. Keep it to a minimum.
- Add commentary if something isn’t developed in a later document and needs to be corrected for others’ benefit.
- Be a human with others.
For further: How to keep writing my thinking documents in the same way that I always have (in order to learn), knowing that I’ll probably post them.
Guidelines for writing my thinking documents.
I should only have guidelines that protect me from veering into showmanship. I shouldn’t turn this into some legalistic, neurotic pursuit. I should try to remain true to what I naturally do, which is write to think. The only difference is that I’m revealing my inner dialogue to others.
So how does a person think out loud? Or more accurately, how does a person who naturally fixates on appearing like he has everything figured out think out loud and still be authentic in doing so?
- If you don’t need it for you to understand what you’re talking about, don’t add it.
- You don’t have to make it pretty sounding. You don’t care about that as often when writing for yourself.
- This is not an academic paper. Editing it into sterility is not only too time-consuming, it removes the natural flow of thought that you’d like to keep intact. Mistakes, learning—these are natural processes of learning. Duh.
- You’ll forget these or care more about your appearance at times. If that happens, it’s just another mistake that you’ll have to allow to be public! Ha.
- Develop those thoughts that would drive you to develop them without others knowing you did. Don’t develop thoughts that you only think others would care that you developed, and don’t hide thoughts that you don’t think others would care about.
- You’ll probably add or remove some of these guidelines later. That’s okay. You’re also learning how to post inner dialogue… In fact, by the time this is posted (see below), I will probably have gone through these a few times.
- Here’s a fun one. When should I post this document and the document on how to edit these documents prior to posting? I know that at least in part I want to post them now to preempt all the mistakes that I will post later. Sort of a, “The mistakes you read are on purpose, and I know they’re there, and I know better than them now, so don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Kind of defeats the purpose of what you’re learning is probably better. So, post them chronologically.
The desire to write something that someone learns from, in an abstract sense, seems as steeped in pride as anything else in my life. I want them to learn because I want to be mighty enough to teach.
The true teacher doesn’t want to teach in an abstract sense. They want to help those whom they see as not having learned. I have felt that at times. And when, at my best times, I speak with someone who needs information I have been given, I try to give it, and I do so with as much grace as I can so that 1) they learn and 2) they aren’t belittled by not knowing. Typically, only when it seems like reasonable teaching has not led to their learning (and without an apparent, valid reason for it not doing so, like age) do I become annoyed.
The desire to impact persons seems similar. Is it? Do I desire to impact them with my profundity, with my wit and craft? Or do I desire to explore God and his cosmos with them, that it might impact us both? To subcreate, that it might enrich our common reality—that is, theirs and also mine, but not as individuals but as the community of man.
Should I then seek to be taught in my works as much as to teach others? It would seem so. And at my best times, I feel like this is the case. But just as we are simultaneously sinner and saint, the other side sits at the same table.
This made me think of something else, though it’s just a breath in my mind. I thought of it while doing dishes, forgot it, then remembered fragments of it. The reason the separatist church cannot create art is because they do not see themselves as a part of greater humanity. They see themselves only as teachers of humanity. As Not Humanity but something greater. Not part of the community of man, and perhaps even its enemy. Not someone who walks beside man and seeks with him the truth but someone who has it and speaks it down to man.
True teaching is not the desire to share one’s own greatness, insight, information, wit but to help an ignorant person (in the neutral sense, not the pejorative sense) or persons in need. I feel I should correct this. “True teaching” is not enough. The pursuit of truth, perhaps. Perhaps that is enough. And not just the pursuit of truth but the pursuit of moving the community of man toward the truth. We teach, and we listen to teachings, as long as both move us all—all whom we can—toward truth. As long as they move us toward faith and hope and love and toward God most of all. (1/19/2017 It’s relational, as I’m reminded again and again all good things are).
Likewise, art, as the desire to express oneself and to further the progress of the community of man, cannot come from a place of superiority. It comes from a place of communality and vulnerability. Tolstoy says, “…the purpose of our human existence is to afford a maximum of help towards the universal development of everything that exists.” I agree, and I believe God does as well.
By grace through faith.
The production of writing can become its own idol. I have written all this about how writing is basically an act of love, an interrelation between me and the world, and I have failed to connect the progenitor of love with writing’s production.
Found this quote somewhere. Seems to fit.
“When I teach my brother it is not really I who teach him, but we are both taught by God. Truth is not a good that I possess, that I manipulate and distribute as I please. It is such that in giving it I must still receive it; in discovering it I still have to search for it; in adapting it, I must continue to adapt myself to it.” – Henri de Lubac
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.
Schol! Whatever that means.
Is it a joy to write?
Joy joy joy joy.
Yooooj. Yojoy. Joyoj. Joyoi. Oi oi oi!
It’s a way of thinking. Of expressing thought. Of communicating.
Is it a joy to think, to express thought, to communicate?
It’s just life. For me, anyways.
Is it a cell to suppress thought, to hide it away, to remain silent?
Never done it. Not completely. It’d be annoying.
What is writing? Just a tool for creating. A craft. A skill. A practice. Keys on a laptop. Pixels on a screen (though very small pixels). Black on white. The canvas. A wooden post against my back.
A round-glassesed teacher in a white button-up and skirt, you in her 10th grade English class. Early twenties. Kind of cute. Kind of strict. Kind of tough. Kind of interesting. Annoys you one day. Coos to you another. Makes you jittery another. Not always in her classroom. And you seem to stalk her a bit—pretty sure she avoids you sometimes. Until you stop stalking. Then she comes back and teaches some more. Writing, the cute teacher. “Hey, you,” she says.
Writing is the dog that dug under the fence. Dang dog. Comere, boy! I have food! I have your ball! Is that a deer? Don’t run across the road! Come back! Come back! Where has he gone? Maybe the neighbors. Nope. Maybe the woods. Nope. Maybe my grandparents. Nope. Maybe the pound. Nope. I’m tired. I’m going home for a sandwich and a glass of ice water. He’s at the door? In the gate? Stop scratching on the glass! Hey boy. Good boy. Covered in sweat and thorn-scratches for nothing.
Coffee. More, more more moremoremoremormor. Gah. Less. Less. Less. Chill.
Is that perilous point—that magical, mysterious, mythical end—a place in which I write without loving my skill? Without caring so much about my craft’s perfection (or at least not for the same reasons)? If I am there, no doubt I will not care that I am there, as long as I can write and think and love. Sounds familiar. Perilous? Really?
The joy of writing vs. the joy of being good at writing. The latter doesn’t materialize for me when it’s my love and goal. Thanks to God, I assume.