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.

11/9/2016: 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.

9/6/2016: Loose Thinking on Writing

Schol! Whatever that means.

Is it a joy to write?

Joy joy joy joy.

Yoj.

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.