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.

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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?

12/5/2016: What’s An Artist?

Gut reaction—an artist is a subcreator, with all the nuances that being a true subcreator requires. To the degree that a persons is a subcreator, a person is an artist. And to the degree that a person is a subcreator, the appropriate amount of grace is required—whether common grace or special grace.

Also, what is a writer, if an artist?

I feel like this idea that I am part of the community of man and that the purpose of man is to further us along (toward the glory of God). Christ became our head, and we follow him. But the community remains the same. In whatever I do, the goal is for the good of the community. For the good of all.

If I write, I do so not for greatness, not to separate myself from others. I write as one of… us. And if I write, I do so as a human, as a person, just living life but doing so as a person who lives life while writing. I learn, I feel, I explore, I create, I fall, I do all the things that humans do as I write, and I do so as part of the whole community of man. I share my work with my brothers and sisters.

Yes, believers are brothers and sisters of Christ and so of each other, and non believers are not. But we treat them with the same love with hopes that they might be part of us. With hopes that they might be saved from the path they are on—our errant brothers and sisters. Such is our hope. Not that we might sprinkle crumbs of wisdom and grace upon them as we walk the straight and narrow, they in the gutters, but that we might share what grace and truth and love we also seek and sometimes find. That is, we share it as we seek it. We seek it beside them, with them, though our search often takes us on separate paths (but in truth, is this not the case for everyone, believer or not?). And we also listen, for the rest of mankind, should they find the grace to do so, also look for the same things and sometimes find them. We also all look for comforting, for beauty, for acceptance, for justice, and most of all for grace, though we often don’t know we look for it until we find it, as is the case for the legalist who finds the love of Christ, for the perfectionist who learns the joy of creative writing.

For me, I think this is an issue of solidarity. It is an extension of the people of which I feel a part. I tend to act this way toward those people that have already won my trust and friendship. This is essentially me learning to view all persons in the same way. Of feeling like part of mankind. It is a reversal of the effects of my ostracization, of my “Christian” separatism, of my competitive nature (nourished over the years by games). In other words, being part of mankind means not being shunned from it and not standing above it. Indeed, even those who feel apart are not.

Something that I find fascinating vs. something that I want you to find fascinating.

12/3/2016, 1/19/2017: On Perfectionism and Creativity

Perfectionism kills creativity. It drives the brain to the left side of the road in hopes of removing all imperfections—an editing process. Without feeling the freedom to make mistakes, a person cannot create. But the idea doesn’t stop there, else all perfectionists would be doomed from ever creating (and from the liberation of learning to do so).

Perfectionism, if it’s anything like what I consider my own perfectionism, is a flight from or fight against fear. In this case, it battles the fear of failing to meet some standard.

Call it what you will, but I call this legalism. It’s either the case of valuing the wrong standard or the case of failing to recognize Christ as the one who has met the right standard on our behalf. I say this because the only standard really worth meeting, the only standard that should cause us fear for not meeting it, is that which restores a right relationship between God and man. There are other desirable standards, to be sure, but they fall short of this one, and all become idols (1/19/2017: indeed, even this standard can be an idol if elevated above God, himself) as soon as they become our driving force, as soon as Christ’s imputed righteousness, our redeemed relationship with God and man, the hope to which we look forward, is not enough. We can handle falling short of those standards with poise and contentment because they do not come before that which secures us. (I need to develop these ideas more).

That being the case, perfectionism is sinful, or it is symptomatic of sinfulness. It is a lack of godly character. It is an issue in need of grace—whether common grace (as is the case for so many ungodly artists) or special grace for sanctification. That is to say, the recognition of the premier value of the standard that Christ met, of the Gospel, and faith in Christ as the attainer of the standard (and all that such entails) frees a person from the other standards that enslave him (in fear). And in freeing him from fear, he feels free to make mistakes and thus becomes more able to create. Moving from perfectionism to creativity is a liberation. And it is a product of the grace of God.

This is what I felt when I started writing.

1/19/2017: Another way of arriving at this:

As God is love, I think that God is Creativity (and I think A.W. Tozer would agree).

God, in his self-existence, is the standard and source of all the things that he is (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). He doesn’t receive his characteristics from some higher provider, and he does not match up to some higher standard of goodness, of love, of whatever. He is the standard. These things belong to him as intrinsic to his nature (and to none other apart from his making it so, though sans infinitum, as far as I can figure). These are aspects of his character, descriptions of who he is. And the existence of these things in the creation is a product of God having created it and making it in accordance with who he is (Good is like God, Evil is unlike God, and God does no evil). Aberrations of these things came as a result of sin. So, God alone existing in and of himself, and him being the Creator, who creates from nothing, is creative and thus the standard of Creativity.

For mankind to be like God in his creativity is to be a subcreator (Tolkien). And because sin has made us unlike God, and since to be made like God is a product of grace, becoming creative is a grace.

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.