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.

9/3/2016: The Joy of Writing

I have forgotten the reason, or reasons, to write. I have forgotten them, or they have been displaced.

I now seek to win the tournament. Snap kick him in the neck. Go for the cut eyelid. Drive yourself until you bleed sweat.

The scoreboard drives you: How are you doing now? What about now? Not good enough… Still not good enough… What about now? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this game?

Because I love to whistle new tunes, I whistle new tunes. I daydream tunes. And they’re often good (I like them, anyways). When I love being good at whistling tunes… It all stops.

Because I love to play games, I play games. I daydream playing. And I’m often good. When I love being good at games… It all stops.

Because I love to create new worlds and to make new ideas and to do it in a way the impacts readers, I write. I sometimes daydream writing. When I love being good at writing…

My love is a fickle thing.

How do you forget love for one thing and remember love of another without merely attempting to win the love of the first by manipulating yourself to love the other (as if that could happen)? When I played Battlefield, the easiest way was to find the fun things to do that didn’t have anything to do with doing well, and then go do those. My brother and I would drive jeeps around the outskirts of the map looking for perched snipers to run over. Or we’d drive through super intense areas just trying to avoid being hit. Or we’d find jumps. Or we’d get into a chopper and do back flips and barrel rolls. Or whatever. It didn’t matter as long as it was fun and pointless. At some point while having fun, I remembered that fun was the point of the game, and the desire to do well, or at least the love of it, left, replaced by the love of having fun. I tended to do well after that, but I sought the fun more than doing well.

So perhaps I can find the fun parts of writing that have nothing to do with whatever my standard of “doing well” is in hopes of remembering the good bit about writing and displacing the love of doing well.

I really love to do well. It distracts me like nothing else. Always has. I suppose it’s a central idol. Fettered Fett and Frackalurch were fun. So was Fatherhood (though perhaps fun is not so much the word). Indeed, it isn’t always the fun of writing that’s the thing. It’s the rawness of the writing that’s the thing. When I tap into some idea that moves me. When it clicks and an idea closes its circle.

(3/29/2017 Sounds suspiciously like fun replaced vanity as my idol of choice here. But there’s something to be said about writing only in the vein of personal aggrandizement vs. writing for other reasons. There’s also something to be said about feeling free to write [fun] and feeling constrained to [fear of failure]. More development on this later…)

 

8/30/2016: More Clustering Nuances

I need to nuance my understanding of the purpose of clustering. We learned it for random vignettes, but this is not its only usage. This was merely a tool to learn the process and to practice it.

Because the right brain does not order or sequence or define, because it seeks to explore, to make new connections—to join numerous sprigs into some unknown end, it seems to work best without any agenda in place—any known end. Else, you are sequencing, defining, ordering things to fit an agenda, and that’s the left brain. The right brain works when you play, when you don’t know where you’re going but delight at exploring and arriving somewhere new.

Perhaps it works when you take one known endpoint and connect it to something else in an unknown way—seeing how a person might connect something to another something. That seems feasible. I wonder if Rico has anything about that. She did use clustering to arrange her book, and she had the agenda of writing an instructive book about clustering, soooo…

I need to learn to trust the free, generative side. For instance, if I have something I want to include in a piece, but I want to leave myself to explore (right brain), I should just let myself go on doing so, even when I don’t see how that thing will be included, merely because the design mind likely has it in there even when I don’t see it. I just need to keep going until it pops out. I have seen this a few times, actually. Just because you aren’t consciously in control (sign mind) doesn’t mean you’re not on target. Both sides of your mind are still you and work toward your goals.

7/17/2016: Internet Access

I have kept myself from internet access for my past few writing sessions, and I am finding that in my off time I am still thinking of writing. In fact, it doesn’t seem as difficult to get into the writing mindset at all—when I have sat down to write-or-else. I am wondering if there is a connection, and it seems like there might be. Dr. Glahn mentioned how letting our attentions be drawn to other things constantly keeps us from really delving into things. Before, I would go to Facebook or to Netflix or to YouTube, and sometimes these would just be short trips, but I wonder if even these little distractions had serious repercussions.

It reminds me of Guam. We got there, and I didn’t do anything on the internet except the occasional movie. The only other things I did were study for courses, do my internship stuff, and explore the island. I would work on my writing wherever I was, no intention required.

I should continue to deny myself distractions. I think it might enable me to really delve into my writing ideas and make it something I’m always, or at least more often, working on.

Sometimes your best thoughts can come when you have nothing better to do than to sit and think after having worked hard on something and having nothing else to focus on. It allows your background thoughts to work on the same topics uninterrupted. It’s like chewing cud. You bite, bite, bite, chew, chew, chew, swallow, bite, bite, bite, and so on.

Distraction overload.

I guess you just cut out everything you’d rather do more. Make them unavailable however you can. The key is to find the thing that’s really high on your rather-dos and then cut out all the junk-food-rather-dos that are above it. Then you’ll choose to do that thing.

I always found that to be the case with playing guitar. I only ever wanted to do it when I was out of town and couldn’t play games or watch movies.

This is the same thing John Cleese talked about—carving out a period of time in which you disallow yourself from doing anything other than your creative art. You give yourself freedom to create and only to create. Freedom to create as long as you’re creating.

7/15/2016: Write What You Want

You are not constrained to write anything other than what’s natural to you.

And what’s natural to you can be described as “what you want to write apart from external constraints.”

It’s the same idea as “be yourself.” You don’t want to act like someone else or like some standard or “what you should be.” You want to be authentic.

But what about meeting the standard? You want to actually meet the standard. You don’t just want to put on the standard. Thus you want to be authentic and good. And the goodness comes from God, primarily, and from practice and from learning and failing and starting over and getting back up and from being hurt and healing and all the other things that lead to growth.

Thus I write whatever comes naturally apart from constraint. I write what I want to write. And I accept my lack of goodness, to whatever degree I have it, and I enjoy coming up with stuff even if it sucks for the joy of learning how to come up with stuff better, for the joy of finding new connections, for the joy of playing, for the joy of exploring new territory.

I also need to qualify “external constraints.” I doubt it’s possible to be free from external constraints in this life. I will always be afraid to some degree of something. But like all things, perhaps, if God wills it, I will grow in this area as well.

And that’s one of the primary reasons to write this book. To grow in all the ways that I need to in order to create, to write, to be free to be myself. It’s not to write the perfect book. It’s just to write and to see what happens when I do. It’s to watch God work on me through the process of writing and working through all of the issues that surround being myself.

I am in my first draft in more ways than one. The obvious one, of course, involves my creation of a novel. The second one is my continued exploration of the process of creating a novel, and on top of that, the exploration of my own creative self. I am delving into the reaches of my creative side, which I have never focused on to this degree, with this intensity, with this drive. I seem to be moving toward making my natural self a disciplined natural self, which seems good to me (at this time).

It would be a mistake to forget this in any of the aspects in which I am first drafting, although, I should also expect myself to forget this. After all, this is my first draft. (1/19/2017 And true to form, I have forgotten this and have been reminded of it numerous times)

So yes, there are standards—even the ones that surpass the ones I currently know. And yes, it is good to know the standards and to always reach for them and to find the surpassing ones and learn and then reach for those. But that’s kind of the point. We never arrive. There’s always more for which we can reach. We arrive when Christ arrives (1/31/2017 At least to the degree afforded by our escape from sin; I think we’ll always have more we can learn). Until then, we reach. Sometimes in the dark. Sometimes in the wrong direction.

Moreover, it’s when we’re reaching that we tend to find new things. Hence, we create when creating.

7/1/2016: Clustering for My Novel

The central impression of this process, and one that I would do well to remember, is that I am learning.

I think I found the following either on/in Rico’s book, Writing the Natural Way, or on her website, but I didn’t record its exact location.

“Human beings are capable of processing the world in two distinct ways: Named Sign and Design mind by Gabriele Rico, the Sign mind (left hemisphere) thinks linearly, parts-specifically, logically, one step at a time, while the Design mind (right hemisphere) thinks in whole patterns, drawing on images, emotional webs, sensory patterns, as in a memory that suddenly flashes into consciousness as a complex whole.

Although writing requires Sign mind sequencing, writing also requires global search strategies for what groups together, requiring the Design mind’s non-linear jostling of emotions, memories, ideas. A too-hasty emphasis on Sign mind sequencing often shuts down the search strategies of our Design mind.

Clustering, developed by Gabriele Rico in her doctoral work, is largely a Design mind process. This non-linear brain-storming encourages playfulness, wide instead of narrow attention, and mental flexibility. By letting Design mind associations spill onto the page, clustering makes this non-linear search for patterns visible, manipulable, and so, teachable and learnable—long before the Sign mind steps in. Once both sides of the brain have a say in the writing process, the creative potential inherent in all of us is activated. The resulting writing flows quickly and easily.”

Clustering allows you to get the whole, unlabeled, unsequenced, unanalyzed, Design mind vision for the pattern. Then you engage your Sign mind paired with your Design mind to lay it out on the page.

The trial-web-shift happens when the broad pattern held by the Design mind is recognized by the Sign mind. You begin with the complex image, then you Sign it out. Of course, you develop the complex image by the free associating of clustering. Of course, if you are freely associating while writing, you could potentially develop the complex image that you are working to Sign out as you are writing. This seems to happen when you have nothing ahead of you that you want to write, you just start writing without knowing where you’re going, and then you find something and keep going with it until it’s done. I wonder if this is a good way to do it, though. Or the best way, even if it’s a good way.

So it seems like this might be a good practice:

  • Prewrite by clustering. Develop the unsequenced pattern that will turn into a segment.
  • Write it out until it feels like you’ve finished the segment
    1. If it takes multiple sittings, read what you’ve written and then recluster prior to writing. Recluster the same idea?
    2. Write generatively, exploring the unknown. Don’t make things fit, don’t edit, don’t stop writing. Just write.
  • Once you’ve finished a segment, go back, find the impression, set that as the subtitle if it’s a chapter. If it’s just part of a chapter, write another segment and on until you feel like you have a chapter with a central impression.

I think it might be more freeing to cluster any unit of the book, not necessarily the whole book. That is, I always feel the boundary that I should be able to draw the entire thing to a closed connection, and that’s my primary goal. But I can also do this for chapters, for scenes. For two or three chapters (a Part) or whatever.

Don’t go cold from old clusters. That’s the same thing as writing cold from any other idea. Or writing cold from no idea at all. The problem is writing cold. You’ll just end up trying to make things fit.

I just read the Constellations chapter in Rico. It has a lot to say about writing a novel, though not explicitly. Also, the previous content on re-visioning, essentially reclustering things over and over, delving deeper and deeper (or perhaps wider and wider).

For constellations, she says to cluster and write different vignettes without focusing on how they interact, without paying attention to the patterns they might make. The only overarching intent is to autobiograph, so each vignette is autobiographical (though not necessarily historically accurate). Then, when you have completed so many of them (I think 20), you read through them in a sitting, find the central impression, and cluster that impression. Then, I think she has you write a final part or final piece that begins at that final cluster. I need to read it again.

For novel writing, it seems like you could so something similar. Not necessarily that you just cluster and write about just anything, but you cluster and write about the character’s biography, so to speak, or about the character’s story.

Essentially, I have been treating my first draft like one long vignette, which I’m not sure is the right approach, since it is difficult to encompass such a drawn-out process into a pattern, into an impression. That’s why perhaps identifying the dominant impressions in the various sections would be good (and finding the most natural sections—perhaps these are the ebb-and-flows that I have already noticed).

There are times where she enforces boundaries (and that, again, I need to reread). For instance, you have a particular time in which to write. You have intentional products—an autobiography, for instance. You close the story as it started. You recur ideas or sounds. And on and on. So boundaries, themselves might not inhibit the Design mind (in fact, I think she says they can help it). I also need to remember that the goal is to use both sides together, not to close down the left side. Obviously, you need the left side to string words together and to write a story (series of events). The problem is that we tend to reject the right side and do these things only with the left side. We need both.

There must be a difference between “finish where you started” and “start at X and finish at Y.” It’s like connecting something to itself and connecting something to something else are different types of processes. Indeed, at first glance, the second seems a logical process (how do these fit together? How does X end at Y?) and the first something else…

At times, I have regarded generative writing as clustering-on-the-go. You don’t cluster each idea, you just write and let come out whatever comes out. It’s like perpetual clustering. But I don’t think that’s how it actually works… So far, I have tended to cluster to start and then just to write until I run out of steam. I wonder if running out of steam is a sign that I have finished a segment, and at that point, I should go back and find the impression, and then I can cluster again and start a new section. Indeed, that’s kind of what I’ve had to do because of the difficulty of getting started again once I reach the end of the motivation in a section. I wonder if I have stumbled onto the trial-web-shift generative writing without realizing it.

A case study—the backstory I had so much trouble working on.

The issue arose because I felt constrained to make the backstory fit. And of course, a backstory should fit. But I think my problem was 1) trying to fit into Tolkien’s model, 2) to make it fit the type I had in mind for what I wanted the protagonist to do—an idea that had been developed previously (“it would be cool if he did X”). So I wanted to make a backstory that would lead him to do that thing. That wasn’t a productive constraint.

Contrived – “deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously.”

“I want to make X happen. This will make it happen,” (Do this). That’s left-brain, isn’t it?

Right-brain generation works the other way. This, then this, then this, oh X is happening, fill it out. The this then this then this does work toward connections, but it does so without an end in view. That is, it makes a whole, unsequenced pattern with unnamed parts. An intuited whole. A complex image.

(1/23/2016 – I later thought of it like one of those web-making colonies of worms you see sometimes. From a distance, their colony just looks like a grey cloud in a tree. Get closer, and if you’re neurotic enough, you can trace each segment of web and see how they all fit and to what else they connect. It’s the amorphous, complex whole and the parts that make it up and connect it elsewhere. It’s the left side that picks it apart). 

Having a destination at which you want to arrive requires left-brain processing. This process doesn’t find new connections but linear connections. It analyzes discontinuity and makes continuity. It fixes mistakes. It yields the feeling “It did what I wanted it to!”

I wonder if left-brain generated stories are what feel like first-draft stories or if they are just poorly edited.

(1/23/2016 – I think I had yet to nuance the whole end-in-sight idea as including both right and left sides. Yes, you find and develop the right side complexities. But you’re also engaging the left side to put it in story form. Even closing the segment at its beginning is a left-side function, or it at least uses the left side even if it plays more toward the other because it logically fits two things together [the beginning and the beginning again after a middle]. I think that was causing the difficulty for me here, and I don’t know if I wrote about that after this. Actually, in general I tended (tend?) to idealize right-side generation and forget about the left’s necessary place in writing…)

There are difficulties in transferring constellations into novel writing.

Rico emphasizes sequentiality-agnosticism, even for chronology. This seems to disconnect with the typical chronology of fictional narrative. Sure, you could just write a story that jumps all over the place, and it could be great, but there has to be a way to use these same principles for writing a chronological story. Her principal is to be free of restraint and to allow your Design mind to explore and to work out its own patterns. It seems like having such potentially out-of-chronology segments might be difficult to fit together into a chronological narrative—kind of like the Hobbit must have been. You’d have to either write some new piece or edit the pieces together (or both).

Perhaps there is some way to cluster each section as a “what happens next” type of scenario. Or else, “what happens in the story,” even if those things aren’t necessarily next. But if you write something that happens later, you will be tempted to figure out how to fit what happens now to what happens later. You’d need to resist this temptation until after you find the pattern of each of the pieces. Then I guess you’d connect the pieces or else leave them separate, depending on what the pattern requires.

Action List:

  • It seems like going back and revisioning and reclustering the stuff I already have would be good.
  • It would be good to find the impressions of each section or chapter—like I was doing at the beginning with the chapter titles.
    1. I need to break it apart into it’s natural segments, so find the segments.
    2. Identify the overarching impression of each of the segments.
  • Perhaps I should be sure to avoid imposing structure or chronology or any other expectations on the story and just let it come out. That will be difficult because of all the rules by which I tend to abide. Even now, the idea of not imposing chronology irks me.

While clustering, it’s perfectly possible to organize rather than to explore. The difference is in intent, purpose, what you attempt to do. Are you imposing “what it should say?”

I just started reading back through the first quarter of my first draft, and I am finding things that I had forgotten. And upon reading them, I am finding connections between them and things that I wrote later on after having forgotten them. We’ll see how this plays out, but it seems like sometimes it’s good just to go back and read what I’ve written. Chances are, I’ve forgotten stuff.

Also, I wrote quite a bit last night without clustering. I had that drive to write, that sense of a whole that I wanted to fill out. I may have had this in part because I read the context around where I wanted to write. In fact, I didn’t just keep pressing on, I rewound a bit and filled out a section that was a bit lacking. But I didn’t cluster, and it didn’t seem like I was missing anything.

Cluster, then get an impression, set as a nucleus, and keep clustering. That’s how you can get a theme and then a bunch of things that you can put in to demonstrate the theme. Think about “Traps.”

Right now the concern isn’t to make everything fit perfectly. It’s to have the mega vision, to keep writing it out, and to bring it to a full close.

5/31/2016: Clustering Large Stories

Clustering larger stories seems to require that you cluster in chunks. Then you cluster each chunk. So, something like chapters, sections, scenes, and on down to clothes and feelings.

Incidentally, writing from the hip and clustering both seem to require the Design mind—the exploration of new territory, and the hidden desire to make new connections. The only thing I question is the disconnectedness sometimes of how new scenes will come out. For instance, I had the addition of a new character being the protagonist’s father, and I don’t know where it came from. It doesn’t seem to have come from what I had already written—it may have come from a song I was listening to or something. But even then, the Design mind may have gravitated toward it because of some hidden connection that I had yet to make. I guess it’s not so important that each new idea spawn from another of your ideas (making a chain) as long as they connect. And not all the parts of a chain connect once the key pieces do. However, it is important to note that even if the idea comes from somewhere else, your mind catches it in mid-process of developing a web. Though the idea didn’t generate directly or solely from previous thoughts, it was attached by the same Design mind that generated the previous thoughts, and it finds its place in the same web as if it were generated by the design mind. If anything, the connection that’s made is a Design mind product.

One thing to remember—to keep the web alive, and assuming parts of the web are only in the narrative and not on a cluster, I’ll need to keep reading the narrative to stay fresh. That way the stuff stays alive in my mind for my Design mind to grab.

Also, for now at least, perhaps I should try closing each chapter like I did my vignettes. If the whole story is a cluster, or perhaps a mind-map, those can be the largest trunks of it.

4/30/2016: On Clustering (For Writing)

I need to nuance my understanding of the purpose of clustering. We learned it for random vignettes, but this is not its only usage. This was merely a tool to learn the process and to practice it.

Because the right brain does not order or sequence or define, because it seeks to explore, to make new connections—to join numerous sprigs into some unknown end, it seems to work best without any agenda in place—any known end. Else, you are sequencing, defining, ordering things to fit an agenda, and that’s the left brain. The right brain works when you play, when you don’t know where you’re going but delight at exploring and arriving somewhere new.

Perhaps it works when you take one known endpoint and connect it to something else in an unknown way—seeing how a person might connect something to another something. That seems feasible. I wonder if Rico has anything about that. She did use clustering to arrange her book, and she had the agenda of writing an instructive book about clustering, soooo…

I need to learn to trust the free, generative side. For instance, if I have something I want to include in a piece, but I want to leave myself to explore (right brain), I should just let myself go on doing so, even when I don’t see how that thing will be included, merely because the design mind likely has it in there even when I don’t see it. I just need to keep going until it pops out. I have seen this a few times, actually. Just because you aren’t consciously in control (sign mind) doesn’t mean you’re not on target. Both sides of your mind are still you and work toward your goals.

Myself (Revised)

I posted this vignette previously, but after receiving some critiques, I reworked it. Let me know what you think.

“You scare me,” a previous draft began. But the ghoul of perfection cornered me, and in desperation my task took way too long, with way too much censure. Revealing my unedited self, as opposed to the comfort of studied abstraction, makes my face warm and my hands shake. So the deceitful strength of rotting fingers keeps you and me apart. But like the steps of my pursuer’s persistence, only by means of repeated encounters can our romance succeed.