Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing With the Flow

Unluckily or luckily this notion of writing on the Working Classes has in the interim died away in me; and I have altogether lost it for the present. I have got upon Thuycidides, Johannes Müller, the Crusades, and a whole course of objects connected with my Lectures; sufficient to occupy me abundantly till that fatal time come. We will commit my Discourse on the Working Classes once more to the chapter of chances.

In early 1838 Thomas Carlyle wrote these words as the introductory paragraph of a letter to John Stuart Mills. It seems that Carlyle had committed to writing an article about the working classes for Mill's London and Westminster Review magazine. Carlyle, however, with this letter put off Mill, claiming he didn't have the notion to write on it at that time, being fully engaged in preparing to give a lecture series that would start April 30, 1838.

I can sympathize with Carlyle. As I wrote yesterday on this blog,"inspiration" suddenly hit me yesterday, and I went back to working on the Harmony of the Gospels, going after the passage notes with great interest. When I worked on some of the passage notes previously (meaning over a year ago) I had some difficulty deciding on a format for them. Should I type the parallel passages in a table or columns? Or should I just refer to the passages and let a reader (including me sometime in the future) pull out a Bible and flip between gospels? I elected to go with typing the parallel passages in a Word table? More work, more paper, more trees killed (or pixels consumed), but more usable passage notes.

As I said yesterday, working on this wasn't on the radar screen for this month, probably not for the year, but my reading drew me to it. This seems to be the way of my writing life. Reading or teaching or some other of life's activities gives me a burst of interest, and I (research if necessary and) write. It doesn't matter if it's a new project or old project, an outlined project or seat-of-the-pants piece. It doesn't matter if I have been hot and heavy in the middle of something else. I go with the flow. Wherever the creative waters gush, there I go.

So that puts me at odds with Carlyle. It seems that, while he recognized that he should follow his creative juices, he also knew he had to complete a project to make some money. His lecture series would be quite profitable, and Carlyle at that point in his career still did not have financial success. So somehow he found the inspiration he needed to prepare his lectures. The working classes did not inspire him at that moment, and would not really futher his goals, though they would a year or two later.

When I feel the creative juices flowing in a certain direction, I go there, regardless of what I'm working on at the moment. That's why I have a dozen writing projects opened, and none finished. In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People was where I was supposed to be spending my time yesterday. That and two articles for Suite 101. Despite the busyness of a Sunday, I had enough time carved out to write a thousand words in FTSP or complete at least one if not two articles for Suite. Yet I went with the flow instead of practicing creative discipline.

On Rachelle Gardner's blog on Friday I made a comment about that (comments 207 and 208 to Rachelle's post), claiming I had genre identity disorder (G.I.D.). That may have been a misnomer. Perhaps I should call it Writer Discipline Deficiency. Or maybe Uncontrolled Creative Flow.

Somehow I need to learn to do what Carlyle did: go with the creative flow, yet complete projects started before going on to the next. Get the next idea documented in a notebook or journal, locked down, and carry on where I was before the inspiration hit.

Oh well, tonight, as the time allows, I will be mostly working on passage notes again, trying to get the notes written for at least one passage. If time allows and inspiration calls, I'll see about a Suite article too. However, what I really should do tonight is get my household budget and financial records up to date (1.5 months behind) and get something done on my income taxes. Unfortunately, inspiration for those two items is lacking.

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