Breakthrough

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This week was fortuitous.  While studying the Quran, I found what I was looking for.  Something fell into place for me.  The next day I began writing the latest opening to my book.  For over a year, I have been honing the opening, over and over, circling around a correct thesis, without seeing it.

I could not write a book without a one-sentence summary.  What would I say without a thesis?  Each of the previous openings was built around a sentence that never could get me quite to the end of the book.  These statements couldn’t take my narrative to where I wanted it to go.  This week this changed.  Such a simple thesis, and I could not see it until now.

The day after this realization, I began building out the latest model of my book.  For the past two years, I have been using an application called FreeMind.  It is open-source mind-mapping software.  It works well.  But it is not ideal.  During the past couple of years, I have sketched out quite a few models.  During the past few days, I had been thinking hard on my book.  The morning after, I built the best model yet of the vision that has guided me in this project.

The day after that, I began writing.  My mind maps tend to resemble trees with branches. This is fortunately or not due to the design of the software.  Since I began using FreeMind to help me write, I envisioned the full draft as a process of filling out the leaves on each branch.  That is where I am at right now.  The sled is moving again, and picking up steam.

Progress in Three Paragraphs

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When free versions are available, why did I pay good money for this translation of the Quran?  Some of the value is in the English-language translation itself.  But much of the book is commentary from experts on Islam.  I paid for that.  Initially, I made a good faith effort to read the entire book, page by page.  But by the time I made it through the introduction, through the first surah and into the second, I realized that the commentary was bogging me down.  Most of this book consists of commentary.  For now, it distracts me from my purpose.

So I have spent the week reading the Quran, but focusing on Mohammed’s words exclusively.  It is slow but rewarding work.  I take the time to copy passages into my journal so that I can better argue with the ideas themselves.  When I read, I argue.  If I don’t argue, I am not engaged.  The fact that I am arguing much with the Quran means that I am very engaged by what it says.  When I get to the end of the 114th surah, I will have the basis for my for the article I am writing.  I won’t be done.  But I will be on my way.

I want to explain why I cannot embrace Islam.  Idealogical differences motivate me.  More than a quarter century ago, I left the Catholic church.  My reasons for rejecting Christianity were just as valid then as they are now.  But they apply equally well to Islam.  I am convinced more than ever that religion misrepresents God.

The Next Step

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Religion is my endless fascination.  I have studied it throughout my life.  I am convinced  that God is not what religion teaches us He is.  This is why I have decided to write.  God is something other than how we have traditionally imagined him.

My evidence lies in an argument I am composing.  I am analyzing Christian and Islamic theology within the context of logic.  The Christian half  of my analysis is completed.  But because I am not Muslim, I needed better knowledge of the subject of Islam.  So I bought the Kindle version of The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Caner K. Dagli, Maria Massi Dakake, Joseph E.B. Lumbard, and Mohammed Rustom.

I have been taking notes as I read the book. My argument develops out of this exercise.  Work this week has been good.

Begon

I have been suffering writer’s block.  All kinds of false starts as I attempt to write for my blog.  However, I can defeat it by lowering my standards.  So here goes.

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I have no problem with the act of writing itself.  Every day I sit down with my journal and fill it with words.  But when I write for my blog, my creativity is stifled.  So, as a solution I have bound and gagged my internal editor and stuck him in another room.

I have also defined a very limited scope for my blog.  It removes all of the stress over what to say.  This should be so simple.  Each week, I have to do something to get published, or I have to explain my failure to do some thing.  Each week going forward, blogging should now be an act of stating the obvious.

So today, I will bring everyone up to date.  This past summer I went to a writing conference in Tucson.  It was my fourth conference in about seven years.  But it was the first in which I submitted a manuscript to be read by an agent.  The agent gave me some excellent feedback.

First, he told me there was absolutely no chance he would represent me.  He laid out the type of work he is looking for, and I definitely do not fit his niche.  Hearing that was reassuring.  Because I went in with the idea that an agent would tell me some ugly truths I needed to hear.  So this meeting turned out to be very productive.

The agent pointed out that my manuscript was non-fiction.  He said that anyone can get published if they can write fiction well.  But in non-fiction, publishers want credentialed writers.  He suggested that a resume of magazine and journal articles would greatly help my cause.  He also suggested that the first chapter of my manuscript would stand well on its own as a magazine piece.

So my goal this year is to begin publishing articles.  My first goal is to complete a companion piece for an article based on my first chapter. Then, to re-write the original article to support this second piece.  Then, to find a home for these two essays.

Patio.

North by northwest. The round table nearest to Sprouts. I decided to face north, because I never face north, anymore. When I am here. All the best seats, for a wheelchair, face into the crowd. I usually try to write at some oblique angle. I want to focus, and not be distracted by social interactions.

Now that the weather is cooling down. Now that I am in afternoon shadow, rather than staring down summer’s desert sunset. I can sit here and look out at Southern Avenue, while I write. I am one with the ancients. The Sun dictates seating arrangements. She typically calms down.

Come, September.

Wow.

I am surprised by my ability to write, today. I hurt.

Not bad. Because, I can write. But, when I have painful days that are not bad, I sometimes ask why I should bother.

The answer is that I never know what will happen after trying. Each day of practice is another chance to crack the hard shell of the walnut. The meat is tasty. Yes.

I just wrote a passage for the narrative that forms the basis of my book. Today, I can hold my head high. On my pillow, as I drift to sleep.

For everyday, ordinary.

Writer’s block. I highly recommend three books. They were recommended to me. I’m just passing them on. I present them in the order I read them. These are the three classics, in my library of writing books. My hard copies are all on loan, and I don’t expect them back. Just keep them in circulation.

The first is Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This book transformed how I approach my daily practice. In fact, I didn’t actually have a daily practice, prior to reading this. My first year of writing, I had a regular practice, but not daily. And, I focused on producing manuscripts.

Natalie completely changed my approach. She taught me to write from within a journal. Some people can produce lots of great books, just working up manuscripts. But, that’s not her approach. And now, it is neither mine.

The next is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. A book to disabuse the aspiring writer that there is any short path to success. It is work. It can be brutal. Get used to it. It is a job, like any other. Grind, in order to succeed.

The last is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I have had a funny relationship with this book. First, Wen Ling had to hit me over the head with it (only figuratively), to get me to read it. I wouldn’t. Then, I actually began this book before The War of Art. But, I finished the latter, first. Then, after my diagnosis, and as my last year of software-engineering played out, I ignored the title on my Nook. My symptoms had overwhelmed me. I could sense that Julia’s book would require more effort than I could provide, in that moment. So it sat waiting for the right conditions, before I would open it.

I came back to it naturally, as I renewed my creative effort. I had just spent the better part of two years writing, or, as I imagine it, thinking physically, about all the stuff happening in my life. Wen Ling and I had separated. Then, I discovered I had this health challenge. Followed by an adjustment period. Journaling helped me to come through all of this with an optimistic and accepting attitude. Somewhere around November/December of 2012, I began to think creatively, again.

Initially, I wanted to return to the book I had abandoned, before my symptoms had begun to dictate my days. I had already discovered the first of five principles for dealing with my symptoms. (More on this in my next post.) I had had just an absolutely great concept for a book. But, when I tried to pick it up again, something was missing.

I found it difficult to resume that relationship. Too much had passed in the interim. The story felt distant, to me.

I needed new inspiration. This is when I turned to The Artist’s Way. I have seen a number of reviews, by people who say it is just a bunch of ‘New Age Hooey’. I completely disagree.

Julia Cameron will ask you to do some strange stuff, in the way of weekly exercises. For instance, one of the exercises I undertook was to pray for creativity. Now, understand, I am an atheist. But, I did the exercise, because I was serious about unlocking my creativity.

The book contains Julia’s philosophy, in twelve lessons, each with exercises. These twelve chapters are intended to be followed, in order, one chapter per week. And, Julia tells people that the exercises must be followed. You can’t unlock your creativity just by reading about it.

Well, I had a deep burning intention to do just that. This atheist prayed, and did a lot of the other exercises, too. I even adopted the attitude that I would take on the all of the difficult assignments, to better challenge myself.

Somewhere in week seven, my creativity unlocked. I began my current project. I’ll go back and finish the The Artist’s Way, someday. I think the people who pan the book are just too stiff to be exercised.

Writer’s block is no match for honest effort, and these three books. I recommend them all. Julia asks the most of the reader, in terms of follow-along practices. Brand new writers, I might tend to steer toward Writing Down the Bones, instead. Natalie appeals to the youth in all of us. The War of Art most resembles a pep-talk. Sometimes we need a good pep-talk. This would be a great book for a newly crushed writer, after sharing their first bad work. Pick yourself up. Get back on that horse!

These three books are better, for blocked writers, than what I will share. Instead, beginning in my next post, I will spin a tale of what happened after I took all three to heart, and tried to write a book as my health continued to deteriorate. This past year was my most challenging, yet. But, by applying the idea that my disease was just a form of writer’s block, I discovered some adaptations that have allowed me to find the energy, and the mental clarity, to begin my book. I couldn’t say this, even one month ago. Back then, when I told people I am writing a book, I never hid the fact that I wrote everything in my journal.

Now. I am beginning my book. It is no longer confined to my journal. I am back to working up manuscripts. In addition to journaling. (I would love for readers to share their favorite books on writing, in the comments section below. Or, blog about yours, and share a link to your physical thoughts, as a comment/pingback.)

Writer’s block? Not!

Until recently, whenever I wasn’t writing for my blog, it was because of my symptoms. My newest problem is actually the type that writers dream about. Ideas for my book and my blog are coming fast and heavy. I can’t write for my blog until I can capture all my thoughts, and organize them, in some fashion. This is not a bad day, by any stretch of the imagination.

I hope your writing day is as good as mine. I will share my work as soon as I can separate my blogging thoughts, from my book thoughts. I am trying to write for the blog, but too many good paragraphs, that actually belong in my book, are creeping into my next deliberate post.

My writing voice and my blogging voice are the same. But, I want the topics they address to be different. My difficulty is in noticing the book ideas, before they land on the page. I’m trying to write for my blog, but my book keeps taking over my mind. Keeping the two separate is my latest cognitive challenge.

I don’t want readers of my blog to be disappointed that they could have just read my blog, instead of paying money for a book. My intention is that you, my readers, will hopefully be doubly delighted that the blog was free.

I am not there, yet. But, today I am willing to begin speaking to my evolving artistic statement.

What is an evolving artistic statement? I’ll tell you tomorrow, if today’s blog post is still not completed, but my energy is still good. Today, I can afford a quick aside to tell my readers how my day has been. Think Tony Tiger!

If tomorrow is the same, I should be able to give some depth to the notion. But, if tomorrow is different, I hope the only possible explanation is that I completed what I am working up, today. In the future, I look forward to returning you to my newly developing narrative.

(If I wait too long before explaining ‘evolving artistic statement’, tell me in the comments section below that day’s piece. I really do want to talk about it. I just have to write today’s thoughts while they are fresh. My artistic statement isn’t fresh. It has been evolving.)