Friday, March 12, 2010

Would You Rather Build a House, or Remodel One?

M. was telling me about the long process of remodeling his house. As a person who is fairly useless around the house (except for the cooking/cleaning bits) I am easily impressed by people who have a lot of practical skills. Wouldn't it be something to be able to buy houses and "flip" them? Or to be able to recognize the potential in a place and draw it out, through patient, clever reconstruction?

Some other friends of mine bought a smallish farmhouse and proceeded to give it a second story so there would be room for their many children (who, formerly, may have been spreading out bed rolls in the pantry, perhaps?)

But M. was quick to add something that surprised me:
"I wouldn't want to actually design and build my own house. I'm too much of a perfectionist. I'd want it to be just right and would be frustrated if it wasn't. But working with a house like this one, I know it isn't going to be perfect, that it isn't going to be everything I might want. Many decisions were made by someone else and I will have to live with them. I find that a lot less stressful. I'm just making it better."
What about you? Are you a make-it-from scratch person, or do you like to take things and improve them? Would you rather have a blank sheet of paper and some charcoals, or to make a collage or sculpture from found objects? Would you prefer to draw your dream house or to pick one out of a catalog?

Maybe I just don't have the creativity, imagination, or skill to face the blank sheet of paper, but I have a strong preference for starting with a menu, catalog, or a list of options and resources. I like having a bunch of ingredients and deciding what to make out of them.

That's creativity, too, though, isn't it? It's just a different sort. When we moved to the big city after our parents' divorce Meg and I had to take some tests to get into the 'gifted' program. In one of them they gave us a sheet of paper with about 30 circles on it, all the same size, and instructed us to decorate them. Meg made elaborate, beautiful designs in hers, while I made mine into bicycles and sunglasses and and caterpillars. Both of us got high scores.

Writing and Editing:

Even as a writer, I can go much further, much faster, when I don't have to come up with my own ideas. That's probably why I don't freelance. And I don't do poetry, or fiction. But I know a good idea or story when I see it, I like putting the pieces together and finding a way to frame them.

So one of the possibilities I'm tossing around is being a writer-at-large for our ministry, even if it was just on a project-by-project basis while doing other things as well. I want to interview people and write up what they say. I want to get things down on paper for people who don't have the time or skill to do it. Is there a job in that? I think there might be.

There are a couple of guys in the ministry's home office in Florida who I think could really use someone like me. Well, I still have doubts about me, but not about them. They would be a great group to learn from, to be part of in some sense. And I think they could use a journalist/editor at their disposal.

All three of them are visionary types, but play different parts. One is something of a dreamer; he has all kinds of ideas, good ideas, probably more than he could ever follow up on. And since he's in a rather lofty position, people are interested in his ideas. The second guy is a critical thinker: he's brilliant, savvy, and also has good ideas, but his real strength may be in being able to sort out the good ones, the significant and strategic ones, from the ones that aren't as good. The third guy is a publisher. He can also write, and edit, but mostly he puts his energy into keeping things running, knowing what's practical and marketable, and dealing with the problems or obstacles.

I don't know how much these three actually work together, or who else might be in the mix. But I sense I could do some great work if I put myself in the hands of these three guys. That is, if they were willing to take me on and trust me to run with their ideas, to provide contacts and feedback and open some of the doors that wouldn't open to me otherwise. We could do some really helpful group projects.

If I didn't drop the ball or somehow misplace it. If it didn't turn out to be a ball of twine, a giant one, that ended up not really worth looking at. That's the problem with big projects, things that are complicated, multi-faceted, probably book-length. There are projects like that I've carried, not finished, for years on end. And the guilt and shame can be overwhelming. Do I really want to put myself in those kinds of situations? Or are there ways to keep them from getting that way?

That's where managing our ezine these last five years or so has been such a joy. Almost zero stress. It's a beautiful setup, everything is bite sized, and I've had a great team to work with. I never wake up in the night worried about it. I never miss a deadline. Get those 1000-1500 words or so - purpose and structure so clearly defined - ready to go, and have it all queued up by midnight Tuesday. Weekly. 5000 readers will notice - well, at least a good handful of them will - if I don't get it done. I could keep doing Miss Cat ezine for years on end and never be unhappy about it.

Well, I'm not doing the ezine now. And I have a couple other projects on hand:

One of them is an academic paper. Needs to be ready to present at a meeting at the end of April. My title is "Listening as a Ministry: Empower Others by Listening Before Speaking." No, I haven't started it yet, but I have a bunch of stuff I can draw on. I don't actually plan to start it until next month, though I don't want to tell the event coordinator that.

The other is an editing project. As I work on it I'm reminded of the down side of being an editor instead of a writer. Some of this stuff seems really awful to me. But because it's supposed to be devotional writing and was submitted by respected leaders, I don't know how much I can just tell them how bad it is. Somehow, I should be able to clean it up, right? We may be able to get new stuff written, but the project had languished for some time before I picked it up... beating the bushes further will probably mean even more re-purposing of materials written for other contexts, and half of what we've got is like that already.

If this project is going to be done in time for the big event where my colleague wanted to distribute it, I need to make serious progress on it pretty soon. I've had the initial collection of material for months now, but am only just now sitting down to work with it. Seemed like a good project for sabbatical, after all. I'm struggling against my own prejudices: I don't like all the religious capitalization (it shows up in every sentence!), and some of it is just pure, poorly expressed emotion. What's not too artsy is too preachy: we've got a lot of sermons. And the poetry is no help. Do we really want to include poetry? I'm just the copy-editor, I tell myself: it's not my job to dismiss what they have to say, it's my job to arrange and make the most of it.

But what if only half of this is really use-able? I'm regretting having agreed to this, sight unseen.

Some of it - oh, some of it, is really good. I want to post it here because it's really wonderful, inspiring stuff.

If you're the praying sort, pray for this project, and for me as I explore the pros and cons of doing more writing, versus other things I could pursue in this next season of life. Even in this season of life. I had a dream last night that I took off for a couple weeks and took swing dance lessons. Not likely to happen, but it might be nice - especially if more writing lies in my future - to spend some time this sabbatical doing things that use an entirely different part of my brain.

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