Some authors possess an amazing superpower. They can write their books in just one draft and barely need revisions. They pass the manuscript over to an editor who then makes some minor copy edits, and the book is ready for publication. It’s all so neat and civilised.
I am not one of those writers. My first drafts are ugly. So ugly that nobody is ever allowed to witness the atrocities I commit upon the written word.
By the time I start my first draft, I’ve already spent many weeks putting together a detailed outline. I have a picture in my head of what the story is going to look like. I know what I want to say and have sketched out a theme which I hope will strike a chord. My characters are real in my mind, and I imagine how the finished version will convey a message, strong yet subtly nuanced, with just the right balance of hope and pathos. The mental image is wonderful.
But the reality looks more like, in an attempt to create a sculpture, I’ve closed my eyes and attacked a block of wood with a chainsaw. The result is beyond rough and barely recognisable as art.
For a very long time, these ugly first drafts of mine kept me from finishing any project I would begin. I thought that, if I were a “real” writer, a novel would spring perfectly formed from my brain and onto the page. When it didn’t happen like that, I’d look at the two or three dodgy chapters I’d written and quickly give up. How could a novel ever come out of this heap of verbal dross?
And then I read a comment that changed my writing life.
I don’t remember who wrote it, but this was the gist of it: you wouldn’t look at a bowl of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs and berate it for being an awful cake. That’s because we all know these are just the raw materials. Measuring them out is only the first step in the creation of a delicious dessert. These ingredients still need to go through a process of mixing, baking, cooling, and frosting before they can be served as a gorgeous layer cake. I realised that this truth of baking is equally valid for novel writing. That’s when I had my first big breakthrough and was able to complete the first draft of a novel-length manuscript.
This truth extends beyond the kitchen and the word processor and into every other area of life, including our personal growth and development. We are all works in progress. If we are Christians, we are in the process of being sanctified. God is working within us to transform us by the renewing of our minds. We are growing and maturing, and this takes time, patience, and work. We are not to despise the day of small beginnings, but to keep working diligently, laying brick upon brick, and trusting the process and the hand of the Creator upon us.
I find that greatly encouraging now, while I’m in the throes of writing a first draft. I’m halfway through, and so far none of the chapters I’ve written say what I want them to. My phrasing is clumsy, my characters sound like robots, and I have only bare bones descriptions in place. I would shrivel in shame if anyone were to see this draft, but from past experience, I know that just because the first draft is rubbish doesn’t mean the book is doomed to be awful.
In the same way, our mistakes, false steps and missed chances don’t mean we’re destined to fail at life. Our journey, as writers, parents, Christians, human beings, is a marathon and not a sprint. A snapshot of this moment doesn’t tell all that much about where we’ll be in a year or five years. It’s all about the process and not the individual moment.
Have you had a hobby, a vocation, or an area of study that takes diligent application? Have you ever been tempted to quit because your first try didn’t turn out well? Let me know in the comments.
I hope you will have a wonderful Christmas season and be reminded over the coming weeks of God’s love, provision and grace.