Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hitting the Delete Key

For several months I've spent time compiling and editing another book of psalm-prayers. I've put the psalms in my own voice over several years, mostly in my daily period of morning prayer. The practice has been a helpful way of listening more deeply to the psalms, hearing their spirit and adapting them for my own life-situation.

I chose these particular psalm-prayers over a period of weeks, then spent time re-reading through them, shaping them, cleaning up vocabulary, grammar and form. Others read through them, making helpful suggestions. My anticipation over the end of the project grew as the design and layout of the text took shape, then as the title and cover design came together.

About six weeks ago I needed to work on the final elements of the book. Specifically, I needed to write an introduction to the volume, a way to introduce persons to prayer and to the practice of praying psalms. I wanted an introduction that provided some background AND introduced what I was trying to do in the psalm-prayers. I wanted it to provide a path that would enrich others in their praying of the psalms.

So I started writing introductory material . . . and writing . . . and writing. It wasn't that I came up with one lengthy document. Over a period of about five weeks, I probably made 15 starts and stops on the introduction. A few times I wrote an entire introduction, but each time I was unsatisfied with the end product. So I'd begin again. And again. And again.

I ended up with several saved drafts in my computer file. On one particular document, I'd write on a particular idea until I ran out of steam. Instead of trashing the document, I'd just type a line across the page and start all over again. In that single document alone I had six starts and stops.

I'd be out walking my dog in the evening -- a time that is good thinking/reflecting time for me -- and come up with a new direction for the introduction. So I'd quickly walk her home, sit down at the computer and start writing. Sometimes I'd stay at it until the late, late hours. But eventually I'd hit a roadblock, something I just couldn't work through.

Then, some nights I'd wake up in my bed at 3:00 a.m. to a flash of insight, a brilliant revelation concerning the introduction. I'd race out of the bed, find a pad of paper and start scribbling wildly, sometimes two or three pages of sloppy, hand-written notes. Surely, I thought, any brilliance that came to me in the wee morning hours would be illumination that was divinely ordained to make it into the introduction.

The next morning, with my head screwed on a little straighter after a couple of cups of coffee, I'd fire up the computer and start writing from my notes. The end product never seemed as brilliant and illuminating after two cups of coffee as it did at 3:00 a.m. Go figure!

Some of those drafts has some really good elements in them. I mean, REALLY good. Good stories. Helpful images. Creative examples. Sometimes, just the right turn-of-a-phrase. But I could not get totally satisfied with any of them.

About 10 days ago I was out of time. I was word-weary, frustrated and unable to see clearly what I was writing. But my deadline was upon me. I needed a workable introduction to the book in order to get it to the printer. It wasn't a matter of it being good or bad. That one had to be the one. I didn't have time for it to be anything other than the introduction that would go into the book. But that's not what I'm writing about in this essay.

What I realized, once I had come to the introduction that I would use, was how hard it was for me to jettison all the others . . . over a dozen drafts. No, they weren't good on the whole. But some of the stories in them were really helpful, I thought. And some of the images were powerful. And some of the writing was quite good, even if the whole was inadequate.

I realized how much time all those unused drafts represented . . . literally dozens of hours spent crafting sentences, finding an appropriate word, or searching for a way to communicate an idea that people could understand and find helpful. Those drafts, which would go into an electronic dumpster somewhere, represented a part of me. They represented my creativity, my wisdom and perhaps my failure. In those drafts were both my weaknesses and my strengths.

What I want to say, I suppose, is that it's very difficult for me to hit the "delete" key. The likelihood that I'll ever use those insufficient drafts is small to none. I don't foresee that happening. When something else comes along, I'll write something original. But I'm having difficulty hitting the delete key.

I can't let go, even of that which is inadequate.

1 comment:

Kathryn Kelley said...

i delete nothing; i have more unpublished posts to my blog than published. i kept every email significant or not from people i love though many i have had to store away, not really to be read but at least to have because the computer has spoiled me and i require it to now function as my longterm memory in case i need to access its content. ok occasionally i have to send some things out for big trash pick up but i would be swallowed by art supplies if i did not do this. if it was up to me, i would delete nothing and no relationship.

a harder lesson for me i've learned from my keyboard and software, CTRL - Z (infinite undos) that restore something to an exact historical state. moving from graphic design (computer based) to art (hand based), i discovered i can't undo things that are done in real space. i can attempt to re-craft them as closely as possible to a previous state but it is simply impossible for me to fully restore any exact previous state. i don't like the implications of this to life; so often i would like my infinite undos; but not so with real space or real life--this is a painful reality often masked by our exposure to computers, games (with multiple lives), tv shows with all problems resolved or coming to closure in ~40 minutes, and consumer culture where we can just buy a new one, ... and then i can rewind/undo. nope.

so i must learn to move forward with no undos, yes attempts at amends may be made, altered relations may be forged or not, but nothing that is done is undone...well occasionally one feels undone but that is a different kind of done...

so i must learn to move forward in a way in which i don't wish for infinite undos, and move forward allowing forgiveness to permeate me were undos are needed but not possible.

sooo many things to learn from the weird things computer usage/habits reveal...

i was glad to see you at the contemplative today.