My (Re-)Writing Process

I’ve been gaining momentum writing my book on Karl Rahner for P&R Publishing’s Great Thinkers series. At this stage, I have been reworking my dissertation for this format. It will be a much shorter work and targeted to a different audience. The bulk of my present labors are in editing—or better yet, rewriting. Apparently, Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast that “the only kind of writing is rewriting.” I haven’t verified the quotation, but I agree with it regardless of who said it first, where, or when.

Text generation is one thing, but in my case good writing is the fruit of many, many rewrites. I work over passages myriad times. I continue to be amazed at how many improvements can still be made on the tenth or even twentieth pass. While it would seem that this would be most conducive to the word process, I find great difficulty in focusing on the screen in this stage. During my dissertation work, I began printing my chapters and editing them by hand with colored Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3mm gel tip pens (I’m particular about my writing implements.) I developed a system wherein I would encode my comments, make changes, write new sentences, etc. After working through the printed pages, I would open my word processor and begin making the changes to the electronic copy.

This worked extremely well for me, though the most annoying bit was working backwards. I found that if I made any substantial changes by adding significant amounts of text or rearranging passages, I would quickly lose my place; the updated electronic document became too far out of sync with the printed page. So I resorted to making the changes beginning with the end of the document and moving toward the beginning. While this would work most of the time, rearranging large passages would still sometimes still knock me out of whack. To solve this problem, I began marking insertion points on my document—both paper and electronic forms—with Greek letters. I would then highlight a passage and write a note to “move to alpha” or “move to beta,” etc.

Perhaps this process is inefficient; but it’s effective. And that’s the most important thing with intellectual work. Every writer—every thinker—must find his or her own process. At the end of the day, if something facilitates the formation, translation, and transition of deep and sustained thought from your mind to the page, that is where you must concentrate your energy.

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Colossians 1:28–29

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


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