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.

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.

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.

Moving Forward: Faith and the Arts

I’ve been pretty lax about posting for the past half-year. After unloading my first armful of vignettes, publishing drew my attention, and I have since been more interested in submitting than posting. The logs I still carry await the publishing fire.

On top of that, I have donated much of my free time to other pursuits. My post-postgraduation detox has seeded a growing interest in Faith and the Arts and how they interact with culture. This interest spans artistic fields, with writing at the forefront, and it involves a good deal of study and reflection. Additionally, I am writing a novel. I hope to further develop my craft, to landmark my vocational vision, and to further evaluate whether writing fits with my giftedness. I have set for myself an interim goal of 45,000 words by July 16th. So my free time has been reduced to a few hours per week, which I would rather spend with my family than writing vignettes.

So what am I to do with this blog? I’d rather keep it than abandon it. I can beat on it like some artful practice-dummy, and, more importantly, it provides a channel for dialogue with you.

An idea came to me a couple weeks ago. As I learn, I already tend to record impactful ideas, to write out my thoughts, and to catalogue useful materials. Why not just move these things from my computer to my blog, in the event that “Faith and the Arts and how they interact with culture” might also interest you?

Thus I have begun crafting a few new sections. At the top of this page, you can find links to 1) a catalogue of meaningful reference material and 2) my To Read list. I will also post thoughts and the like as they come (and as I format them).


Edit: You’ll notice these, too, have fallen by the wayside. So be it! Let the wayside keep them!