Writing and discipline

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I don’t write easy things.

Sometimes I can’t tell the story but from a state of emotional upset, and I may balk at allowing myself to get into that state.  Other times, I may balk at other things.  I have gotten next to nowhere with the piece I’ve been working on now for two weeks, and I finally know why.

The problem is, I’m indecisive.  The solution is to resurrect the approach that allowed me to succeed in college (BA, 1977), and become a disciplined writer.

When I first conceived The Way of Peace,  I set myself the task of accounting for every time Jesus referred to “the Kingdom.”  I have collected all those verses, but feel I need to first explain how Jesus’ view of the Kingdom differed from that of almost everyone else who dealt with the New Testament.  So, the current piece, “Two (or more) views of the Kingdom” (forthcoming; the link won’t work until the post appears.).

The story of Jesus may be the fulfilling of pre-existing expectations that may have little to do with his life.

There will be five or six major sections, and a real puzzle as to how to fit them all together.  I can puzzle over that ad infinitum while they remain unwritten.  There’s also the matter that, as I work on it, my perspective as to some sections is changing.  Which point of view to use, the old one, the new one, or something still different?  I can puzzle over that forever, too, and never write the text.

Success in college.  Freshman year in college I faced, for the first time in my life, academic failure.  The professor in each course seems to think theirs is the only one you’re taking; it’s not humanly possible to do all the work assigned.  One can throw up one’s arms and panic and despair, and so guarantee that one will fail.  Or, one can grab the bull by the horns, develop priorities and strategies and do the best one can.

I finally figured out that in contrast to high school, where one might have a half hour of homework for every hour in class; in college, there’s 90 minutes homework for every hour in class.  I determined to treat my academics as if they were an actual job; I actually made up and kept time sheets to make sure that, between class and homework, I put in 40 hours per week.

In the humanities, at least, exams are usually designed so that you don’t really have to do all the assigned reading.  If you do a big enough chunk, you’ll get by.

Then there was the matter of my papers.

To become a disciplined writer.  I began with a bad habit of wanting to make one passage perfect while the rest of the piece remained unwritten.  That proves to be a perfect way to miss a deadline, or have to pull an all-nighter scrambling to finish what thus can only be an inferior piece, at the last minute.  The solution: write the whole thing first.  Then at least you’ll have something to turn in, good, bad or indifferent.  Once the whole thing exists at least in draft, then you can go back and fine-tune or rearrange the individual parts.

I need to do that now.

I need to “get my game face on” and write the whole thing, without regard to doubts and indecision.  I won’t always enjoy what I’m doing.  I won’t always admire my product.  I need to do it anyway.

A sense of “inspiration” can’t be counted on.  In recent months, based on “inspiration,” I wrote so many pieces that I now have Monday posts scheduled through September 24, and Saturday posts through — well, this one, October 13.  But it’s not getting this piece written now.

I recall the story of one man who set himself to write for a solid hour at the same time every day.  No matter how he felt.  Just produce, produce, produce.  This is what Dickens did; this is what Mark Twain did.

I wonder how a gigolo develops a disciplined sex life.


Postscript, 09/29/18:

I may have overdone it.  Ever since those words, I’ve been composing longhand like a madman from 14:00 to 20:00 daily, much more than I can transcribe on my tablet between 6:00 and 14:00.  At this moment, I must have a week’s backlog of handwritten manuscript to transcribe.

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