The Roughness of Drafts
Originally Published February 2018
When I first started writing novels, I loved the rough draft process. It was a chance to exercise creativity and imagine new people and places, committing my dreams to paper. I hated the revision process. In fact, I believed that real writers never needed to revise. If I was a real writer, the story would flow perfectly from my mind to paper. (Remember, I was an idealistic teenager.)
My attitude changed during my senior year of college. Upper-level writing courses taught me that revising a story can be fun. Not only do I get a chance to read a good book over and over again, but I can correct errors, pacing, and plot holes, shaping the story the way I think it should go—something I sometimes wish I could do when reading others’ works. Rough drafts are messy; revisions provide order.
Then came general anxiety disorder, and with it a desire for perfection and acceptance.
The weight of writing shifted from one side of the scale to the other, instead of spreading out and creating balance. Now, I struggle with the rough draft process, tripping over my words and ideas as I try to get them onto paper. Interestingly, my belief is the same: the words have to come out perfectly the first time. But where before I thought all of my stories were brilliant, I now see them as terribly flawed. I look forward to the revision process, but I want the story to be worth revising.
I have forgotten that the rough draft doesn’t have to be logical, doesn’t have to stand up to criticism, doesn’t have to be perfect. My characters don’t have to say and do all of the right things at the right time. Perhaps their flaws in the first draft will help them to stay human throughout the revisions. I suppose the trick is to find the balance in my own mind that allows me to be imperfect while striving for perfection. I just haven’t found that yet.
Author’s Note, May 2019: In the past few months, I have changed my approach to writing. My husband and I agreed that I can have an hour or two every morning to focus on writing while he takes care of the kids. This arrangement improves my mood in general, but it also helps me to feel fulfilled. The thought, And I still need to write, no longer plagues me throughout the day. When I feel discouraged about my writing or like I’m analyzing the rough draft too much, I say a prayer. I always start my writing time with a prayer. The first draft of my second book is almost done and I feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.