2/17/2017: On Line Breaks in Poetry

I’m looking at the two versions of of a poem I wrote, “Reach” (As of 10/18/2017, it’s still just sitting in a folder on my computer).

The first, what’s more natural to me at this point, separates lines into different grammatical parts. For instance, in the first stanza, I separate the three prepositional clauses into their own lines. I follow the same thing throughout the poem, actually. It’s all separated into different grammatical parts.

I have read poems that do not follow this method (some more than others), and it’s these that the second version emulates. They break sometimes in between grammatical units, like nouns and their modifiers, like prepositional clauses, etc. The effects seem to include natural forward motion, like stair steps or like the meter in Jabberwocky, and an emphasis on certain words or phrases that wouldn’t otherwise be noteworthy.

Here’s a couple for study:

http://www.rattle.com/on-domestic-ecosystems-by-liv-lansdale/

This one seems to break each stanza into three lines regardless of what’s going on in the thought. At the same time, thoughts always end at the end of a stanza, even though a thought might take up more than one stanza. Each line is two to three words. So I can’t tell if she’s following the numbers or following one of the other purposes I mentioned before. Or something else I’m missing.

https://www.fathommag.com/stories/the-cellist

Garrett also sticks to a specific number of lines in each stanza, but he doesn’t seem to stick to a specific number of words in each line.

Perhaps I should read up on modern line breaks. There’s bound to be a reasoning I’m missing.

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2/9/2017: On Whimsy

I’m reading Harry Potter. And perhaps the thing I like best about Rowling is her whimsy. Now, the temptation to emulate someone I like is fairly standard and something I am aware I should generally avoid. But I think something needs to be said about feeling free to be silly. I don’t have to be so serious all the time.

I’m almost always silly with persons I love. Either silly or surly. Sometimes just sarcastic or ironic. But rarely serious, unless I have been moved to be such, and then only insofar as to communicate that thing about which I am serious. This of course doesn’t include times I am afraid or angry—those are the times I get quiet.

When I write, it’s often as if I’m anxious or angry (I imagine the former). My humor finds no place. I focus more on “what I should say” rather than writing recklessly. I’d rather write recklessly. Joyously. Playfully.

But I imagine it comes with feeling comfortable and free in my communication to others. And I imagine this will come in time. I have written about writing being just another form of dialogue, another aspect of relationship, and I still believe that. And like any relationship, comfort comes with time. And with comfort comes silliness.

Which is more reason to write publicly every chance I get. Not only will it help me break the ice, but I will practice and learn all those other things that I need to learn to be a good, godly person-who-writes. This also includes the other things I have started. Everything that gets me interacting with people.

But at the same time, I think there’s merit to making an effort to let loose in my writing. Much more so than holding back. So I’ll just have to add this to the endless and impossible list of things to be mindful of in my day-to-day, moment-to-moment.

I found this effort helpful during “Fettered Fett,” for my writing class. It was fun, and it only came after I clustered and ended up with the bubble “Write what you like.”

Perhaps I can start making an effort to write fun-ly during my warm-ups, for starters. But I suppose I should at least cognitively make this an option while working on my book.

At the same time, I do have serious times that are not anxious. When I’m moved by something, I communicate to others about that thing, and I do so with emotions pertaining to my being moved. I often write about things that move me, and it’s appropriate to do so not whimsically. But I think there’s a  problem if all I ever write is serious. Such would seem to indicate that I only care about writing those things that move me and not any of the “lesser” things that occupy so much of my in-person time.

1/31/2017: On Productivity

I just read this: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/02/22/henry-miller-on-writing/

Miller echoes much of what I’ve read elsewhere. Namely, don’t write according to “Do I want to write right now?” Write according to a schedule or system, what he calls a program. Professional writers don’t wait around for inspiration—they work, and all that.

To some degree, I have done this. I did it more so when I was working on my first draft, when I could set a daily goal (2000 words). It’s more difficult now. I suppose I could set time periods. But this is difficult given that I write only when there’s nothing else to do. Writing always takes second seat. But perhaps this is better than the flip-flop I’ve been slipping into. It’s also more difficult to devote two hours a night to it, after having child #3. And I write better in the morning anyways.

My upper standard is to always work. Always be productive. And most of all, work on the book. My lower standard is just to avoid those things that addict me, like video games and movies. Somewhere in between are things like what types of productivity are acceptable: honey-dos, chores that I have to do anyways and can’t do when I’m at home, learning of various kinds. I’m sure there’s others.

But sometimes, like right now, I get afraid of my book. I’m not sure what it is. Probably a fear of sucking at it. Or maybe a fear of fear. And at those times, I slack off by finding other productive things to do. And perhaps as a result of feeling like I’ve failed my standard, I just want to slack off more and more until I want to slack off by hanging around social media.

I’m not sure if that’s really the answer. And I think it’s better if I don’t fixate on finding it. I have a feeling I just want to get my work right because of some level of idolatry, when I should be depending on God for whatever character and productivity are good. More than that, I should work toward loving God and others rather than meeting whatever level of work makes me feel good about myself. The goal is to write for others. Not for me. To serve others always, including when I write. It’s just an aspect of life.

Slacking off, avoiding that work, is not loving at all. I should write that again. Slacking off—vegging—is a lack of love toward others. Even productive things that I take on but do so to avoid loving others (looking for a house too much is a sign of this attitude; looking isn’t bad, but looking only as a way to avoid serving others is, like cleaning the house when I should be playing with my kids). Only acts I carry out in order to love others fall into the same category as loving others in my writing. But since I am convinced that I should find what ways I serve best, and since I think writing might be one of those ways, writing comes first, as far as I can make it, until I find something else that fits me better.

What about rest time? Akin to a Sabbath? It was instituted not for vegging but for true rest. Refreshment. Rejuvenation. Vegging doesn’t accomplish that. What does? Prayer. Reading Scripture. Taking in good lessons. Good conversations. Manual labor can even help one accomplish these.

What about books? Good movies? Documentaries? Things that challenge me. I feel like those would be kind of like learning, kind of like dialogue. As long as I don’t use them to veg, to avoid service. And perhaps time allotment serves this function best.

And while I’m at it, it seems like this first book is as much about learning how to be a writer (and artist and member of humanity and dependent-on-God and father and husband and IT guy and house owner and goodness what else…) as it is writing a novel. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get into writing when I was younger. I would have ruined it with the same immaturity with which I ruined music. Not to say I’ve reached the goal, but I am clearly more mature than I was.

1/28/2017: Drafting vs. Planning

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.[1]

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.

Go play.

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.

[1]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.

1/25/2017: Writing as Living

Writing is just living. Trying to do what I can to love others. Its success, if it can be called that, is not in how many people respond well to it. Its success is the same as asking “Is it a successful life?” And what is a successful life but a good life, and a good life but one that comes from the life giver, from God? One that lives for God and for others? That is a good life. And thus, that is good writing. To write for God and others. To write with them.

1/19/2017: Writing As Relationship

I was reminded this morning that life is all about relationships. I tend to get focused on knowledge and action, and I tend to try to dominate those things.

And it dawned on me that a more appropriate metaphor for my interaction with both knowledge and action is relationship, rather than domination. I don’t cow them into submission; I invite them to join me. 9/5/2017: Or, perhaps, I ask to join them.

It’s much the same as what I’ve been writing about. Magic, in my world, can be dominated or loved, and it’s the latter that’s better.

Esther Meeks has a book about knowledge that uses a similar metaphor, apparently.

And perhaps the best concrete example of relationship that I can use is my relationship with my wife. Think of spending time with her, having conversations with her, getting to know her, having fun with her, working with her… If I manhandle her in my attempt to do these things, and working together comes to mind the most, not only will she resist me, but I fail to love her. And excepting that she, in love, turns me around, our relationship will turn sour. It will die. And until it is again injected with life, it will remain dead.

Relationship takes time, forgiveness, learning (growth), flexibility, relaxation, fun… If it’s all work, and the only goal and guideline of the relationship is to get work done, the relationship breaks down. Relationship is all about love—loving each other, loving God, loving others together…

Yesterday I was having trouble writing. All I wanted to do was veg (I am in the middle of breaking my media addiction, so the cravings are intense sometimes, and my motivation for good things is often low, and I’m a grump). This is almost exactly like I have been with Mysti at times, especially when I was more into video games. I would want to play, and the time that I had to spend with her when I wanted to play was terrible. We couldn’t connect because I just wanted to be elsewhere. And yesterday a similar thing happened with writing. I made myself write instead of vegging. But I couldn’t connect with it. There was no chemistry. It wouldn’t come to me, and I kept averting from it. And the harder I tried to make it work, the more aloof I felt, and the less writing would respond to me (low quality stuff, writer’s block, language just not coming out). Because there was no desire for relating with writing, no warm connection, no real desire for connection other than for accomplishing my goal of 1) not vegging and 2) producing, the relationship was dead.

As soon as the warmth between you and whatever it is with which you are relating goes away, the relationship breaks down. And whatever you attempt to do with that thing will be as stifled as your feelings.

But I imagine it goes the other way more. If you only work on a relationship in order to make it of more utility, it seems… dead. But maybe that’s wrong. It’s like people with whom you work. It’s difficult to actually have a relationship if the only reason for doing so is the work or goal you share. The relationship really blossoms when you actually like each other, when you want to relate not only for the common goal but more for the relationship itself.

And I guess that’s what the goal of writing has been for me. The whole Bill Hendricks search for a vocation. I wanted to find something with which I would click. Something with which I would have chemistry. I feel like finding writing was like matchmaking. And if me and writing get on well, if we like each other, and the relationship continues to grow, it’ll work out long-term. I can commit to it with surety that things will work out.

This actually reminds me of my writing class. I thought of it the same back then—that learning to write was like starting a relationship. I guess I forgot about that.

But it’s not just writing. The more we healthily relate to anything, the more natural our common work with that thing will be. The more we try to dominate anything, the more it will break down—if not immediately then eventually. Domination only ends in death. It’s unlike God. It’s the difference between trying to control and feeling free enough not to have to.

So how to relate to writing from here; some ideas:

  1. Spend regular time together. And if it’s been a while since you have, don’t expect things to be warm and cozy right away. It’s regular time that nurtures a relationship.
  2. At the same time, sometimes it’s good to spend brief periods apart. Relationships take effort—especially at first. Give yourself a break from time to time.
  3. Fun helps: just as you go on dates with your wife, do fun things with writing. Those warm feelings go a long way.
  4. Try new things together. Learn together. Working on some common goal with writing. That’s what the healthiest level of the relationship is anyways—to not only relate with each other but to relate with others together.
  5. Learn more about writing. “Dialogue” with it by learning about it and then putting what you learn to practice. Listen to others who have studied it. Study others’ writing and see how they relate with it.
  6. If you have a bad day, figure out what you did wrong (if anything), make it better, and try again.
  7. My characteristics when I attempt to dominate: feeling the need for control (“It just won’t do what I want! Do what I want!”), feeling pressured for time or quality, wanting to force writing into those goals, frustration, lack of motivation,
  8. Relationships take time.It takes a while to internalize what works and doesn’t work for that relationship. Time and practice. “Brick by brick,” as they say. It probably won’t be magic right away—especially as you work through your addictions, which draw your desires elsewhere. I am still learning to relate with Mysti after almost eleven years of marriage. It’s waaaaaaaay better than it was before, but growing closer really never stops. Or it shouldn’t.
  9. If writing just doesn’t respond to you, no matter how well you try to make the relationship work, maybe it’s a bad fit. Likewise, if you just hate spending time with it, and you’re doing a good job at trying to relate with it, maybe there’s just no chemistry, and you should try something else.
  10. With that in mind, some key characteristics to look for in a good vocational pairing:
    1. Does it forgive you? Do you forgive it? After the dust settles, can you go back to it and the relationship be warm or get warmer? Or does it remain sour and defensive?
    2. Does it respond to you? When you try to work with it, does it work with you?
    3. Do you ever click with it? Those times when things just fall into place.
    4. Does it give you joy, or is it a burden (think of this on a scale)?
    5. Do you share common goals?
    6. Does it have a future? Can you see yourself committing to it?