The Hermeneutic Circle and My Writing Process

Snow day - Guenette photo

(View from my writing desk this morning – stunning!)

Definition: The hermeneutic circle (German: hermeneutischer Zirkel) describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one’s understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one’s understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole.

As I write furiously on the first draft of the 4th book in the Crater Lake Series – 43,000 words so far and going strong – I am struck by how appropriate the above definition of the hermeneutic circle is to my writing process.

I can list many of the parts: character and setting sketches, research notes, outlining, storyboarding, scene blocking, quiet time for visioning and listening to character voices, to name just a few.

A description of the whole is a more slippery. At some point in the process, the parts begin to coalesce. Waiting for that moment, a moment I have never been able to plan for or anticipate, is agonizing. Embarking on this journey for the fifth time doesn’t mean it’s any less agonizing. But I have learned this – when the moment comes there is no stopping the story from moving forward.

It’s the moving forward that fits the definition of the hermeneutic circle. All the parts are in my head and I work and work for hours on end; the words pile up; the page count rises and it all seems unstoppable. But it isn’t. I reach a saturation point. I jump from my chair, leave the computer and run out the door for a walk or a ride on the stationary bike.

When I return, I pick up at a different spot on the circle. It is time for the whole to feed back into the parts. I might write snippet setting descriptions, review character sketches, update my chapter-by-chapter outline, revisit my storyboard. Then I reread everything I have of the first draft. Only then am I ready to move forward with the parts all tuned up to inform the whole.

So it goes. I must say, I do love what I’m doing. Let me know if any of this resonates. Maybe you have a completely different take on nailing that all important first draft. Feel free to share. I’m always open to tweaking my process.

Snowy Feb Hellebore

11 comments on “The Hermeneutic Circle and My Writing Process

  1. Completely agree, and an interesting new word I have added to my lexicon. A gorgeous photo at top–thanks for sharing that!

  2. jane tims says:

    Hi Fran. I think the creative process has to include all the plotting, sketching and analyses. I love the flow of the writing itself but I also like the technical stuff. I love the point where I am adding words to complete a character arc and discover the additions have been there all along, in ideas planted almost from the beginning. Shows what marvellous things are our brains! Glad to hear there will be another Crater Lake! Jane

    • Exactly as you say, Jane – the seeds have been there all along, planted somewhere in our thoughts from the start. What I found fascinating is that I’ll go back and read something I’ve written and have an insight into the text that I didn’t sense at all when I was writing it. Love, love, love this process. Endlessly interesting 🙂

  3. smilecalm says:

    such a beautiful place
    to land
    circling, Francis 🙂

  4. Debra says:

    I’m just pleased to learn there’s a fourth book coming! 🙂

  5. I love your description of your process – I can’t do anything (at all) in a linear way. Like you I am always moving around the circle, weaving until it all comes together

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