asher553: (Default)
Kabbalah has an idea that there are four universes - Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and 'Asiyah - and I think that's a useful model for the writing process. Atzilut is Emanation, the world of pure inspiration. Beriah is Creation, your first notes and your rough drafts. Yetzirah is Formation, the process of taking the raw material and editing, redacting, and re-writing it until it's a polished work. And 'Asiyah is Action - that's the whole mundane business of all the practical stuff connected with writing: the publication process (submitting, reading rejection slips, etc.), organizing your workspace and writing materials, that kind of stuff. All of these levels are important, and a blockage in one ends up affecting all of them.

Since 2010 I've been keeping a diary on my computer. Last week I got around to printing the whole thing out. Three years (and counting) of personal journal entries are now printed in 16-point Courier on 3-hole punch paper, and they fill three 2-inch ring binders. Somehow it's comforting to have my journals in physical form, but it also helps me to feel my writing is going somewhere.

I'm making it a point to print out what I write, rather than just leaving it on the computer, because I think having it in tangible form helps to keep the process going.
asher553: (asher63)
[from my OhLife! journal]
So a quick review of my last OL backup, cut and pasted onto Word:mac, shows a word count of over 228,000 words since my first entry in 2010 August. So assuming that that figure is ballpark-accurate (even allowing for things like formatting tags getting counted as "words" when the formatting is stripped), that means that I've written the equivalent of almost three standard-length novels in the last two years and 5 months - just in the form of journal entries e-mailed to myself.

So, how is it that I'm so prolific here at OL? I guess writing "stream-of-consciousness" feels natural to me; but it's not just a spontaneous, uncensored stream-of-consciousness. If you were to put a keystroke logger on my computer you'd see that I edit these emails constantly as I compose them. I ponder choices of vocabulary, punctuation, and style. Even at my least self-conscious, I'm pretty self-conscious about my writing.

Maybe that last observation explains why all this private writing hasn't carried over to more output on other fronts - my political blog, or my LJ, much less actual creative writing. That's the challenge I'm going to set for myself in the coming year: I know I write reasonably well, now I want to take some of the energy that I've put into "writing for the drawer" and invest it in writing for readers.
asher553: (asher63)
OK, I have to get this off my chest. What ever possessed the Israelis to call their operation "Pillar of Defense" in English? The Hebrew name is "Pillar of Smoke", which is dramatic, concrete, and Biblical. But what in the world does a "pillar of defense" look like? It's a mangled metaphor. Just plain bad writing. Grrrrr.
asher553: (Default)
If you're wondering about those cryptic verbal constructions I posted the other day, it's sort of an experiment, mostly a gimmick to jump-start my creativity. I wrote a Mathematica script to produce a series of random English words, and then selected and arranged words from the list - in other words, electronic refrigerator poetry. Milton it ain't, but it's strangely addictive.

In case you're curious, the Mathematica code for a 20-word list is


and it gives you something like




And now it's time to get out of my repentant nightgown and get ready for work.
asher553: (Default)
You write.

You get older.

As you get older, you have more to write about. That's just an objective fact: you've had more experiences, and you've developed the wisdom to reflect on those experiences. And you've had more time to read the works of the great masters and to perfect your own technique, learning from your youthful mistakes.

Naturally, then, your writing should get better over time. The wellsprings of creativity should nurture crops that yield an ever more abundant, ever more delectable harvest. As the years pass, the masterworks should fairly flow from your brain; and by the time you reach old age, the floor should be littered with a constant blizzard of sheets filled with brilliant prose, piling up like toilet paper dispensed by an exuberant kitten.

So, why doesn't it always work this way?

This is the part that's unsettling to think about. The thing is, when you're younger, you have a certain bravado - a certain chutzpah - that's very difficult to recapture when you're older. With age, you become less spontaneous and more critical. You see problems more easily than solutions. You become preoccupied with technique. You second-guess yourself.

It's hard to think about this because, obviously, we are always getting older. And we like to think that our suffering has meaning. We like to think that the dues we've paid, the bitter lessons we've learned along the way, have not been for nought, but have given us hard-won grist for the mill; we don't like to think that the mill itself may be getting worn and creaky.

So, that's the problem. Now I don't mean to suggest that the process is inexorable or inevitable. There's still the positive side of the process, too, the benefit of experience. As to which one prevails, I think it depends on the individual and on the style of writing. For a Romantic poet, age isn't an asset, as this memorable review of an edition of Wordsworth suggests.

What's the solution? Right now, I don't have any good answers; but I am wrestling with it.

Which is another way of saying, I'm back to writing.

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