Writing with honey

Oh, I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes them taste real funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!

Apparently, I can only write about something for 3-4 hours at a time before my brain cramps up. I’m on the verge of finishing up this sermon for tomorrow, but I got run out of Starbucks by the sound of a women’s couponing circle. Now I’m at Panera, but it’s going to take a minute for my mind to get back in gear.

So, I always write out my sermons word-for-word, which I understand is Not The Thing To Do. But I’ve always been unable to do anything other. I’m not a very good extemporaneous speaker. That is to say, I talk faster than my mouth can carry me, and then I stumble and either mumble or stutter. Furthermore, with a little adrenaline in my system; the brain starts to revving; the transmission slips, and I start chasing down every little rabbit trail. That’s not what I want to listen to, so it’s not what I want to speak.

Not so my writing. Nice and clear it is. And if I meander, well it’s because I meant to. Every flourish nailed in place. That’s the way to go!

And if it takes me seven hours to write out an hour’s worth of speaking. Well, it isn’t due to my slowness at typing. That’s how long it takes me to actually think out what I want to say. Do you think the use of my hands or my mouth affects how fast I actually think? Of course not. So if I don’t write out every word, what do you think will happen? I’ll tell you what will happen. I’ll rip through that outline like a little piece of tissue paper, in fifteen minutes, not having said half of what I meant to, and then I’ll stand there silently, wishing I could go back to point three and say that other thing I meant to say, but inconveniently forgot to.

Well, put that important thing in the outline, and leave the rest out. My dear fellow, you really don’t understand these things, do you? Which important thing? They all need to be in there. I need all the extra words to hold the outline down, like honey to keep the peas on the knife.

And really, what’s the difference between a 12 page outline, and a 12-page manuscript? So long as what you’re writing doesn’t sound like what someone might be reading.

You see, of course, my dilemma.

So I’m listening to the Writing Excuses Season Capstone, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve never become a professional writer: I have too many hobbies. I have a lot of things I’m interested in and I do well enough at them naturally that I could have chosen any one of them to pursue professionally, but only at the expense of dropping all the others. I sing and dance; I play guitar; I write fiction and non-; I study theology and economics… but none of those turn into money, except at a very high level of development.

Developing one means dropping all the others and taking a gamble, and it’s a gamble I’ve never been willing to take. Which is odd, because I’m not particularly risk adverse. But I am proud. Too proud, for instance, to stay in my parents house for a decade, pursuing a career that might not work out. To proud to risk being accused of failure to launch.

So what have I done instead? I picked the one interest that had low barriers to entry, and easy to monetize early: sitting at a desk, organizing stuff. Small fame there, but a decent paycheck. And that’s how I became the Army Sustainment Officer I am today. It turns out my most lucrative calling is to be a bureaucrat.

That doesn’t erase the itch to accomplish something more… refined? with my life. It just steals a certain chunk of my time. So I am even now looking into refining the roughage out of the remaining hours that I have, so I can set aside time to do pursue one of my old affections. I’m going to have to shove aside one or two of my big three weekend and evening pursuits: church involvement, Facebook, and being a dad.

Try Writing More Succinctly

There’s a concept we use in the Army called BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front.  It’s a technique of writing that assumes that the person reading your writing is an extremely important person who is super busy.  So you need to put the bottom line, the final answer, as the very first line of your brief.  You then support that bottom line with the strongest, most cogent arguments first.  This way, the reader is free to skim and toss as soon has he’s made a decision regarding the information he has at hand.

The internet understands this, even if individual people who use the internet (like this guy) do not.

Things that make me happy

  1. A regular routine.
    Getting up at the same time; going to bed at the same time; having the same sorts of events each day take up roughly the same portions of the day… Things I do repeatedly, I get better at. The better I am at something, the more mind space I have to improvise and work on other projects.
  2. Free time.
    Somebody a bit more snobbish might call this “quiet time.” Either way, it’s not incongruous with the above point. It’s the purpose for it. I want a regular schedule so I can block big open spaces to sit and think. The key is the biggest blocks possible. A two hour block is twice as good as two 1-hour blocks, which would be still better than 4 ½-hour blocks. Every chaotic experience requires a certain margin of time before I’m able to operate smoothly again. This cuts into the free time that I have available on paper.
  3. Plenty of time to read, reflect, and write.
    As before, this is the whole purpose of the point above. I can always squeeze a little reading into the crevices in my schedule, but reflection and writing require nice big blocks. And it’s only when I’m ready to write that I first begin to notice that I’m becoming happy. It’s the foundational joy of an ordered mind.
  4. Prayer. Continue reading “Things that make me happy”

A Pleasure

One of the most powerful college experiences I ever had happened while I was alone in my room, doing homework. I had just come out of a class on poetry in which the basic rules for the sonnet were introduced, and we were told to try our hands at it. As I was packing up my things, I wrote down a single line of pentameter:

She stood and broke her alabaster box

I had some thought of rhyming “box” with “fox,” and I went back to my room to play around with it. Five hours later, I had finished Memorandum.

I’ve always been pleased with that poem, but the effect on me of writing was profound far beyond the pleasure of a nice bit of verse. The sensation of executing something flawlessly after hours of profound mental exertion was cataclysmic on my psyche. (Rather unlike the previous sentence.) I really don’t know how to explain the rush I got.

The only other times I have experienced a similar sensation have been times of intense prayer, when the very heavens have been opened, or during powerful worship services where God clearly and profoundly made his glory known. And here I had gotten nearly the same sensation from writing a poem. It made me think this was exactly the sort of thing that the character Eric Liddell talked about in Chariots of Fire. “When I run I feel His pleasure.” It is the certain pleasure that comes from functioning in accordance with the nature God has given you.

Judge then, my increasing dismay, as over the next two years I slowly realized how infinitesimal were my chances of successfully embarking on a career as poet. Judge my consternation as I have come to terms with how difficult it is to establish a career as a writer of anything. Judge my surprise at my experiences of the last few weeks: Continue reading “A Pleasure”