Learning to Write a Book

Matt2 bwToday is a self-reflection.

I’ve been writing my dissertation since March.  It’s quite a process, difficult to describe.  Professors and peers who’ve been through the PhD comment to me that this is something no one really understands unless they’ve been through it.  I can appreciate that; I feel the same way about several things.

A PhD, like the dissertation, takes a measure of obsessiveness.  The amount of concentration and tunnel-vision (the next level of focus) it takes is difficult.   It is work, at the level that begins to define a rite of passage.  The idea that you are making an original contribution to the field strikes me as a little difficult to believe.  But, I’ve come to see how a little shift in perspective makes a big difference.  And though ideas get regurgitated, it is these ideas in concert with yours that give your thought meaning and paint the difference.

The writing process, alone, is unique to each person.  This has been the most interesting part for me.  I’m learning how I write.  A dissertation is not a term paper.  I’ve written 40 and 60 page term papers.  But, nothing is like this process.  While it is difficult, I also enjoy it.  However, the writing comes in its own time.  I’ve explained it this way to many people.  Writing my dissertation is nothing like other things I do, like raking.  Raking can be hurried through.  Elbow grease and a dose of work ethic can speed up the process.   You can even do it quick and well.  But, writing is not like that for me.  Working harder, yes.  But, hurrying?  No.  Focus is less a matter of quantity than intensity.   A few interruptions can actually help the process.  Otherwise, its easy to get myopic.

Learning the right level and balance of focus has been the challenge for me.  I have needed to get away, to write a few days at a time.  But, then, I need a break.  Once I break and come back, the distance I’ve gained from my work helps the editing process.  Sometimes, I don’t even follow my own thoughts.

The reason is that writing is hard for me.  It is a discipline.  I try to explain it this way: maybe it was the time and period I was raised.  But, the writing process is way too slow.  It’s linear.  Unlike a picture or image that can be studied from a number of different perspectives, with several entry points, writing follows left to right.  It is more like a journey.  My mind is learning, struggling, to work that way.

My brain doesn’t naturally think that way.  Maybe it was television.  Maybe it was video games.  Maybe it’s because I’m naturally an extrovery who like managing alot of different conversations at the same time.  Either way, the discipline of writing is forcing me to do something different.   And as I tried to say in this post, there is something spiritual about it.

Until scriptures are definitively transferred to a new format (.mp3 or BlueRay?), their form as a text will shape our spirituality.   The fact that scriptures are either scrolls or codex (i.e. book) will shape our thinking about God.  God will always be a wonder.  Jesus will always live in narrative.  The Spirit will continue to come to us in moments of communication, inspiration, and despair.  All these are moments of human life.  They are also the qualities of a book.

Hieroglyphs, symbols, ink, text…literally, sentenced to life, on a page.


15 responses to “Learning to Write a Book

  1. So you’re saying I may have gotten my law review article published if I hadn’t written it over the last weekend before it was due, locked in my room with the TV on tuned to the ongoing Columbine disaster?

    Where were you with these insights when I needed you?

    • LOL. The one thing I love about good sarcasm is that it is
      a) concise
      b) smart
      c) always says more than it could ever be actually convicted of saying.

  2. Wonderful insight on how the form of our Scripture impacts how we receive and practice our faith. I wonder what your writing process will teach you about yourself as an academic and teacher?

  3. Matt:

    Good luck on completing the dissertation. Tacy just completed the process, and watching her joy at finally being finished, I know you have something very satisfying to anticipate.

    As to your larger point about the way our communication media effect our theology, I agree. I wonder how the increasing use of networking communication channels will affect the ability of a church “hierarchy” to administer the denomination as communications go node to node rather than through a central core. I wonder how the ability to communicate with Christians and non-Christians around the world far more easily than you can physically meet with them at a church or camp will influence our theology of congregation.

    • Darryl,

      This is a profound question: “I wonder how the increasing use of networking communication channels will affect the ability of a church “hierarchy” to administer the denomination as communications go node to node rather than through a central core.” In think email, facebook, and even these blogs has already eroded the ability of the church to monopolize or editorialize church discourse. And, the church will morph out of its control because of that.

      I’m not saying the church is totalitarian, though we have that history. More specifically, I believe in Foucault’s understanding of power. It is not top down; rather, it is a function of discourse. Subjectivity forms itself in relation to discourse and ‘change’ or the ‘being’ of any organization exists in this way.

      Your question, here, will have tremendous impact on the future of the church and its next leaders. Thanks for asking it in that way!!

  4. I had never thought about how the form of media used would influence our thought process and understanding of an idea or thought. I find this quite interesting. It’s also interesing how Steve Veazey is using the electronic media for dialogue on such issues as “contidions of membership”. As FireTag suggests this may have a profound effect on where we end up as a faith movement. I really enjoy reading everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Keep posting. God bless –

  5. I’ve never played 3-dimensional tic-tac-toe, but have been intrigued by the idea. I run across the same problem in writing a strategic plan or a business plan, because life “ain’t” linear.

    Remember the old pictures we used to use in looking at the faith structure of the church, and how it looked in 2D? Imagine what a visual organization of a system theology would look like! Kind of like charting synaptic brain activity or something.

    So, until you create a holographic multi-dimensional method of describing connected thoughts and ideas (and I hope you do it soon!), we are stuck with linear thinking, writing, etc. No wonder we have so much trouble communicating with each other!

    • me, too. How did they write without editing? Of course, they didn’t. That’s why scribes were scribes – they wrote and rewrote texts in the process of editing. Kinda like Wikipedia – they still had all the previous copies.

      I wish I was better at writing narrative. I want to work on that. I think story telling, like that of the Synoptic Gospels, will be so important to future mission.

      Rock on, holywild

  6. “A few interruptions can actually help the process. Otherwise, its easy to get myopic.”

    That’s a great observation. I think many people hurt themselves by trying to create writing environments akin to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It’s too easy to get lost (in a bad way) when you’re closed off.

  7. One way to convey information transcending the linear word is through maps, charts, and other illustrations. I think this is one reason why I love map-making so much. When you create new maps for a history book, you create a different way of organizing history than you can by stringing words together.

    I’m excited to hear more about your dissertation as you progress. Hopefully you’ll be distracting yourself from it via blog often in the coming months.

  8. Steve sure has a big communications task to perform on January 17….church appears to be equally divided (count resolutions) on Gay Ministry and membership issues. Challenging times and thank you for this place to share!!

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