I got yer GESTALT rightchere

This past Tuesday I was editing Chapter 6 of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, the one on SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION. Despite my eternal love and gratitude for all things electronic, if I get stuck on a writing project I will print it out and work on it old-school, either in my labyrinth (if the weather is nice) or in my chair in the living room.

Yes, I was stuck on SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.  Totally ironic.  I had all these sections, but they were not cohering, and most were incomplete.  Far too many MORE...'s and XXX's for me to keep working on it without dragging it out into the real world and wrestling it into some kind of better shape.

And shape is GESTALT.  My goal was to see what was missing, where the shape was wrong, and fix it.  Or at least successively approximate a fix.

I'm not going to get into the weeds on my process.  (You're welcome.) I will go ahead and say that I solved three problems in a big way, which I will talk about in a moment.

For the moment, let me share with you the strategies that got me there.

First, I changed the format.  Print is different than screen.  Fountain pen is different than keyboard.  Turning pages is different than scrolling.

Second, I changed the venue.  Rather than my attic study, I worked first in my comfy chair and then later at a local bar/pizza place (because I was on my own for supper and didn't want to cook).

Third, I changed the focus.  I gave up trying to write the next sentence and instead took a look at where the bare spots were and what needed to go there.  Some sample scribbles:

So now I need a transition to flow from Lyles Theorem to WBI...

What I need to do here is transition from me —> student —> Beethoven — so move WBI up

can I find other examples —> Ah—the importance of rough papers & concern of scholars that the future won't have those for the electronic age

...and so forth

All of these strategies did the same thing: they put the work in a different environment, in a different frame, and that allowed me to see it with fresh eyes.  They also allowed me to look at the chapter as a shape as much as a text, and that's critical.

So after yanking the chapter out of the computer and onto the paper, what did I figure out?

First, I realized that I had developed a nice structure that flows:

  • introductory anecdote
  • general outline of the Precept
  • reference to another book/source
  • personal experience, solo
  • personal experience, group
  • classic experience by one of the masters (STEAL FROM THE BEST)
  • linkage to other Precepts
  • anecdote from other Lichtenbergians
  • "And So..."

It remains to be seen whether I can get all the chapters on the Precepts to fit this mold, but if I can, then it will be a good thing.

Second, I realized while working on the linkage section that while I have become comfortable with the order of the Precepts (i.e., random), it might make more sense if they were in more or less organized in a more linear fashion.  The Precepts are not linear.  You don't do one before the other and then proceed to the next.  But it makes no sense for GESTALT to be #6 or #7 when it is so closely linked to #4 SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.

So after consulting with my fellow Lichtenbergians, I re-ordered them.  Which meant not only re-ordering them here on the website and in the book, but changing the links in every blog post I've written so far.  And eventually on the t-shirts.  (So if you move fast, you can own one of the original versions and the official new version, kind of like Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire only different.)

Finally, I actually got a lot of writing done on the chapter.  There is still a lot of writing to be done, but I got stuff flowing again.  Sections moved.  Pieces went to other chapters. Ideas began to pop up.

The lesson to be learned here?  I need to hang out at bars more often.  Clearly.