How Does Cycling Fit with Writing Off Into the Dark?

Hey Folks,

I encourage you to read this post. It revisits Cycling in the same way the previous post revisted Writing Off Into the Dark and continues it.

Some have confused “cycling” with “rewriting.”

One very good student of several of my own writing seminars recently wrote that she was about to perfom “cycling or rewriting or revising or redrafting or whatever other name you want to call it.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.)

As I’ve written here before, the difference is that cycling is done with the subconscious, creative mind.

Rewriting and revising (and editing) are done with the consicous, critical mind. And redrafting — well, that means tossing out the whole thing but retaining the original idea and writing it from scratch again.

I mentioned in last week’s post ( that when I write off into the dark, I’m down in the trenches with the characters.

I’m running through the story with them, struggling to keep up, and writing down what they say and do and the settings they allow me to see.

After I’ve written a segment, usually after a break, when I return to the WIP I go back and read over what I’ve written on the characters’ behalf.

I’m reading it just as any other reader will read it: For the story. In other words, I’m not reading critically. I’m not critiquing it. I’m enjoying the story. I’m reading strictly for entertainment.

But as I read, my fingers are on the keyboard.

Sometimes, a character says something a little differently than I thought I heard him say it the first time.

Sometimes a character notices something in the setting that I didn’t see him notice before.

Sometime some action occurs that I missed while my attention was on some other part of the action.

And when any of that happens — again, as revealed to my subconscious mind by the characters in the story — I allow it to flow through my fingers and into the keyboard.

Ever watch a really good guitarist (think Clapton or Bonamassa or Walsh) fly through a great lead riff? Do you really believe he’s consciously fingering each note and plucking each string?

Uh, no.

He’s down in the song with the notes, recording on his guitar what the song gives him as he goes.

I can’t do that on my guitar. But man, I can do it on my keyboard.

And so can you.

‘Til next time, happy writing.


6 thoughts on “How Does Cycling Fit with Writing Off Into the Dark?”

  1. H:

    To paraphrase GB Shaw’s “Pygmalion” character, Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison in the movie “My Fair Lady”: ‘By, Jove! I think I’ve got it!’

    Before, I may have confused the process-concept of ‘cycling’ as in riding a bike, a bicycle. To cycle: to go round and round, to move or revolve in cycles; to pass through cycles. Cycling: the action or activity of riding a bicycle etc. Which took me out of the idea of cycling, but then even that seemed, in a different sense, apropos.

    In your process of cycling you read for pleasure that which you have already written at the behest of your characters… and when, in that reading, a moment occurs where the character sees, feels, hears, touches, tastes or speaks some additional revelation to you, you are able to then include that (in-the-moment, subconscious creative revelation) in the manuscript.
    First, I realized your process was what I do. I had just not consciously named my process ‘cycling’. Second, I realized how, in an unconscious sense, the cycling you are describing was like riding a bike.

    As it is not until the conscious mind lets go of the techniques of ‘trying’ to balance, to let go the conscious fear of falling and allow the subconscious to take over, that we actually ‘learn’ to ride a bike; i.e. let the subconscious drive us forward, balanced by the unseen a priori forces of gravity and inertia. And as the saying goes… once you learn to ride a bike you never forget how… It is an inculcated skill that lasts a lifetime.

    So it is that ‘cycling’ as a writer becomes a revisiting of the words and actions of your characters. It gives those characters another opportunity to whisper (or shout) in your ear, to reveal more story for your fingers to transcribe. And, when that revisitation, that individual cycling session, is complete the characters are free, in your subconscious, to continue to reveal the Paul Harvey; “the rest of the story”.

    I will surmise that once a writer learns the process of ‘cycling’ they will never forget how… It will be an unconscious skill, always available in their writer’s toolbox.

  2. Exactly, Robert, and a neat analogy. Thanks.

    One caution — when cycling back through what you’ve written, as you said, read for pleasure.

    Be careful of “revisiting the words.” If a particular word occurs naturally, via the subconscious — for example, “lichen” instead of “that greenish stuff on rocks” — by all means let your fingers work. But it’s VERY easy for the conscious mind to finagle its way into the process.

    If you “feel” yourself becoming critical, that’s the conscious mind attempting a reassert itself.

    If that happens, go get a beer, enjoy a movie, and come back to the story later. 🙂

  3. H

    I agree completely. My use of “revisiting the words” was an alternate attempt to capture the general idea of reading as in “reading for pleasure” with all the caveats of excluding the conscious mind’s attempt to reassert itself. (grin) Your clarification was most appropriate.

    I think I’ll go have that beer, now. 😉


    • I figured you had it, but with any luck at all, half a boatload of others read this too. 🙂 I’ll tip a Negra Modelo for you.

  4. I think one of the problems is that writers use the words “revision” and “editing” interchangeably. And revision is so deeply ingrained that you MUST do, that their head automatically goes to revision when talking about cycling. They think about fussing with perfecting sentences, not on adding a cool bit of foreshadowing in an early chapter for a scene you just wrote. In fact, I started out cycling–though I called it moving around–just going in and out of different scenes and pulling things together as the story took shape. Then, at some point, I heard that it was better to go straight through, so I started doing that. Really bad idea. I broke the story in some fundamental ways because my thought process doesn’t come in order. I might be in chapter 20 and realize I need to add a scene to connect after chapter 3. But by the “write straight through” standard, it practically required revision because those didn’t get into the story like they should have. On my SF novel, I had a character in the story who needed to be there, but I wasn’t sure at the chapter 2 point what his role would be. Creative brain threw paint at the wall and some things stuck that I didn’t expect. I ended up moving back to that chapter to reshape how I’d started out with him to fit the story better.

    And I know someone will call that revision, just like they say I actually am outlining and just not calling it one, or that my first draft is an outline. Just silliness. They just don’t understand how we can possibly write a story.

    • All great points, Linda. I think the one big key is to remember to allow only your subconscious creative mind to offer any additions. Anything critical–ANYthing–is the conscious mind creeping in.

      I cycle back through at least the past few paragraphs each time I sit down to begin writing again. If it’s been awhile, I cycle through the entire story. BUT I do so simply reading for pleasure, reacquainting myself with the characters and their story.

      During that process, my fingers are on the keyboard. If the characters want to move them, they move. Most often, they don’t.

      As for detractors, they’ve simply never learned to trust that little subconscious voice. They will remain the “god” or “director” of the story, the Almighty Writer on High, and that’s fine with me. 🙂

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