How at length I was able to write “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness”
The manuscript of what became the book, "Rhythm and Self-Consciousness", was written on a word processor between November 19th and December 20th, 2000, and twice rewritten in January of the following year. Some was original composition but most represented reworked materials from versions of the text written ten or more years earlier. This book has actually been in progress for more than forty years, interrupted by other writing projects and by a career in accounting and real-estate management.
From my high-school years, I have kept a running journal of “idea notes” which included creative thoughts on various subjects. They were first sketches of schoolboyish inventions or business ventures scribbled on pieces of paper. Lately, these notes have tended to be related to writing projects in which I was interested. I thought of them as expressions of original inspiration and treasured them as a personal heritage. They were typed in a chronologically ordered series of items and assigned numbers for easy identification.
The notes pertaining to rhythm and self-consciousness date back to the early 1960s when I was a college student, majoring in philosophy. My idea notes at that point tended to focus upon philosophical issues encountered in my studies or personal life. As a student, I began to have doubts about my own mental abilities. I feared that prolonged life in this mode was undermining my native thoughts and I was losing my memory and ability to concentrate. Perhaps I was no longer interested in my subjects or was suffering from competitive anxieties?
My notes at that time focused on rhythm as a condition of replenished mental energies and concentration. Self-consciousness was the condition in which I then found myself. My creative imagination was carrying forward from a source in previous periods of my life.
Eventually these concerns led me to drop out of college for two years, memorize large amounts of poetry, and go live in West Germany. There I continued this rather aimless type of existence and accumulated still more idea notes. I also was able to concentrate for an extended period of time on a writing project, in English, which concerned U.S. politics. Its experience convinced me that I was basically a writer, specializing in presentations of ideas. I returned to the United States and to college, graduated, briefly studied accounting, and then migrated to Minnesota to pursue this occupation.
I was torn between ideas and the practical world. I took an accounting job for a year with the State of Minnesota and then quit it to pursue what I hoped would be a successful writing career. My idea notes would, of course, furnish the direction of the writing. It went well for several months. I did finish two or three short pieces to my reasonable satisfaction and wrote several short stories. Then I started into the main project which was to write a work to include all my thoughts accumulated in the idea notes concerning rhythm and self-consciousness.
This project did not go well. Perhaps the problem was that I put too much emphasis on the original notes and not enough on new creation. I thought that each note contained authentic insights whose truth needed to be brought out in expressions like those originally conceived. Therefore, my strategy was to assemble the notes, group them by like concept, and then connect them together in a coherent piece of writing, trying to retain as much of the original meaning as I could. I cut up carbon copies or photocopies of the source-note sheets into separate slips of paper for each numbered idea and physically arranged them in piles by theme. Then I actually started writing.
I remember sitting in an apartment room day after day writing passages in longhand and then deciding that the subject should be approached differently. So I would cross out words and write in new ones, or I would redirect sentences or paragraphs to other parts of the manuscript, or I would insert new paragraphs in various places, to the point that I was becoming confused where I was in this project. I would wake up in the morning, drink several cups of coffee, assemble my papers in orderly piles on the table, and be prepared to start writing. But nothing came - nothing more, at least, than a few paragraphs up to as many as several pages.
I found that I could not sustain the concentration to produce a full-length work such as what I had written in Germany, even in a rough draft. It seemed that the best strategy was to let the writing go for a day or so and then return to it, hopefully with a refreshed mind and point of view. What I learned from this experience was that I could not force the writing to come. Maybe it was a mistake to have quit my job to pursue this type of activity full time.
Without ever abandoning the project, I turned to other pursuits that seemed more promising. I returned to college to take more accounting courses for the purpose of sitting for the CPA examination. I also read a number of library books on religious and other topics, making notes of their contents. At the end of this period I married and began a career in accounting.
While employed as an accountant, I considered myself to be primarily a writer. Accounting paid the bills but, in my case, it was not exactly a fast track to riches and career success. In the course of more than twenty-five years, I held five accounting positions and was fired, laid off, or retired five times.
I took up writing on weekends or during vacations or interludes of unemployment and found that this system suited me better than when I was a full-time writer. The fear of experiencing writer’s block was relieved by the knowledge that my frustrating condition would end when I returned to work Monday morning and submerged myself in a more manageable routine. Beginning in 1981, I self-published several books under the auspices of Thistlerose Publications and was coauthor of another published by Praeger.
In the late 1970s, while employed as an accountant with a crane manufacturer, I finally was able to assemble the idea notes related to rhythm and self-consciousness and some other subjects in a typed manuscript that was 135 single-spaced pages in length, including an appendix. An expanded version, 215 pages long, was completed in 1984. Neither was suitable for publication. The manuscripts lacked coherence because of following the source notes too closely. They also covered too many topics. In the late 1980s, I began expanding some of the chapters to bring in additional materials relating to sports psychology and music theory.
At the end of the 1980s, I was forced to leave my rented quarters in St. Paul when smoke damage from a fire left the house uninhabitable. Moving to Minneapolis, I first was occupied for several years with trade issues and then with activities, unrelated to writing, which had to do with acquiring a small apartment building and becoming an inner-city landlord. Coming into conflict with Minneapolis city officials, I joined a group of small-time landlords who were suing the city and engaging in other protest activities. As the group’s “chief writer”, I now cheerfully labored on one of the lower rungs of a writer’s occupational ladder - producing frequent letters to the editor of my local newspaper.
That decision gave me time to resume work on writing projects. The latter was more appealing. By now, however, my thoughts had turned to writing a book about world history, an outgrowth of ideas within the “rhythm and self-consciousness” series of source notes. And so, for the next two years, I read books on history, made notes on their contents, wrote and rewrote the different chapters, and finally published the book in time to receive two reviews in the first month of the new millennium. Although I was working full time on this project (apart from my landlord duties), I did not relapse into the creative funk of the 1960s either because my writing skills were more firmly developed, or the subject matter was less difficult, or I was now using a word processor to compose and rewrite the text.
I had long had in mind returning to the “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness” manuscript. The thought, frankly, made me quite nervous because of past difficulties in working with this text. Philosophies of the mind deal in more elusive subjects than those in economic or historical writings. Yet, suddenly, I decided to do it. Perhaps I could write most or all of this long-postponed book during the time while I was still living alone, waiting for a wife to arrive from China. My desk had cleared of obligations related to the world-history book. The landlord problems were under control.
I had a busy day on Saturday, November 18th in connection with the landlord group. But then, on Sunday the 19th, I began with the first chapter, writing everything new. I finished it on the next day. The next two chapters followed at a similar pace, a chapter completed every two or three days. It was a pleasure to watch this fearsome project fall into place so quickly. In a little more than a month, all ten chapters were written. Although corrections and additions still had to be made, I was satisfied that Rhythm and Self-Consciousness was now finished as a book and that the quality of writing was satisfactory.
With this personal history, let me tell what I have learned about writing such works during the past thirty or more years. I have learned to work at a certain speed and avoid rewriting too much in the first draft. I have learned to follow a routine to put myself in an alert, creative mood in the early morning.
I make a pot of coffee, drink a few cups, and read the morning newspaper. If I feel ambitious (which may be once or twice a week), I will additionally jog for a mile or so and take a quick bath before dressing, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper. I make sure that the disordered papers from the previous day are put into a reasonable order. I briefly try to think of what should be accomplished that day. If there are notes or parts of existing manuscripts that pertain to that day’s work, I read them and allow my mind to fill up with their awareness. It is important to work new materials into the manuscript so that one’s mind is kept in a creative mood, receptive and loose rather than perfectionist.
Another secret that I have learned was the value of taking naps. I think of myself as a bow that needs to be unstrung every once in awhile to keep the spring in it. I have learned to take catnaps lasting from twenty minutes to half an hour in which I feel my body and mind grow numb as the fatigue drains away. When I have finished a section or have reached a mental impasse, I take one of those naps. Then I slowly come out of it, do a few fussy things, and am ready for the next round of work.
Actually, this second, third, or fourth beginning of the work day is often better than the first because one has a certain mental momentum by then which makes writing come more easily. On a good day, a writer can extend his productive day through naps to the equivalent of several days. During nap time, thoughts come into the writer’s head that may be useful in the next session. One’s creative mind is always working.
There were three types of materials that I used to write Rhythm and Self-Consciousness:
First, there were the “idea notes”, or “source notes”, previously mentioned. These notes expressed original themes for the book, presenting its main content and organization. Some of the notes were quite recent; others dated back to my college days.
Second were what I called “reading notes”. Any book on a theoretical subject needs, besides theory, plenty of examples. I think of the theory as being like cement mix and the examples being like the stones and rocks, steel rods, used bedsprings, or whatever contractors put into the cement to stiffen it and make it hold together better. A concrete object without this filler material is apt to crumble, while the filler material alone is a pile of junk. Both need to be used together to create an enduring structure. So theory needs to go with concrete examples, illustrations, or whatever can tie it to a reality which the reader recognizes.
The third type of material used to write this book was manuscripts of previous versions. There were at least two versions of each chapter, excepting the first, plus additional writings. Needless to say, it was easier to put the work together when there were existing versions from which to borrow words or gain a sense of how to organize the materials.
I located as many file folders as I could find containing previous versions of chapters in Rhythm and Self-Consciousness, and made photocopies of my source notes from the 1960s where these two concepts were first discussed. I also assembled a large file folder filled with newspaper clippings and magazine articles that might apply to this book. I listed all these articles on sheets of paper and then went through them again jotting down points of interest. There were several other folders from past years that contained reading notes from books previously read and annotated. These, too, were made available for easy access while writing.
Having been raised in Detroit, I was aware of Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques by which parts were brought down to the assembly line on conveyor belts. This allowed the workmen at different points on the line to have all the parts and tools which they needed to do their work, with minimal reaching or lifting. So it was that I tried to organize the work of writing.
I wanted all the written notes and all relevant manuscripts to be immediately available to me as I needed them. It was important not to become tired or confused from reviewing too many materials right before starting the writing. The relevant materials should be in front of me, and the others be put away in a known location for possible use. I would fill up my limited mind with each day’s knowledge, mull it over, and creatively put it to use. In preparation, therefore, I had to sort through the materials and decide what was needed for each day’s production.
I did not make an outline of the book when I began writing. From experience, I have learned that organization can be the most difficult part. I could not project the entire book in an outline, perhaps only the immediate chapter and the one after it. In fact, the scheme of chapters for this book changed several times. I would ignore my previous plans as a new scheme of organization occurred to me. Yet, I obviously had to have a sense of where to go in the immediate chapter; that was the focus of my planning.
Each chapter was a beginning of sorts. I would assemble all the relevant papers for the chapter after putting the old ones away. I also made a point of doing new research for most of the chapters, even if it meant spending a day or two on that. I listed most of the important materials on a fresh sheet of paper - source notes, reading notes, and summaries of the previous versions. Then I read through what I had assembled for the chapter on the morning when I would begin the writing. I made sure that I knew what would be the starting point and wrote down some of the other points that followed. My objective was to cover all or most of the materials planned for the chapter once I began writing and do it in roughly ten typed pages, each single spaced.
In contrast with my original practice of composing in longhand, I composed this book manuscript on the word processor. I have become used to composing nearly everything I write by this means; it has an air of finality that makes me choose my words more carefully. Also, of course, word processors can handle revisions and corrections more easily than in the case of handwritten or mechanically typed manuscripts. Knowing that, I felt more comfortable in continuing to compose the first draft and letting corrections go for the time being. An old phobia thereby disappeared.
I must admit that, the source notes notwithstanding, much of this book about rhythm and self-consciousness is based on “book learning” rather than first-hand experience. I am not a skilled athlete or musician but do have some acquaintance with those areas.
My only experience with sports psychology comes from having participated for several years in a golf league. Having a relatively high handicap, my partners and I won several trophies in handicap golf (which is the self-conscious principle applied to sports). I found that during tournaments I had some control over the level of my playing through the thoughts that I cultivated; or, at least, I could identify particular moods within myself that were associated with playing well as opposed to playing poorly.
With respect to music, I think I have good instincts but lack the ability to play any musical instrument or read notes. I have sung in several church choirs, though none recently. Every week or so, I participate in a men’s singing group that includes several musicians and poets. I am quite creative in improvising rhythms to go with each song or chant including rhythms of clapping, harmonic parts, and, sometimes, singing unrelated melodies or words.