For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a one-draft kind of girl. No revisions, no second and third drafts. Just one draft, some proofreading, and done.
But that one draft—I labored over every word. Writing was a puzzle, and I slowly fit together each thought, each word, each piece. My backspace key was worn out from the tapping and the retyping and the backspacing again. I was worn out by the time that first draft was done, so much so that I almost didn’t believe there could possibly be errors in it or spots that needed to be smoothed out. I put every ounce of energy into this piece; it must be perfect already.
Recently, I started letting the words flow right out of my fingers, not bothering to worry about whether it sounded pretty or interesting or just right, as long as I was getting the content down. My most natural writing voice comes out a little informative, kind of dry, and very plainly expository, and I really don’t like it. It pains me to write down words that feel bland, like they just need a little salt and maybe some cayenne pepper and cinnamon to give them some zest.
But I’m finding that starting in this place—the place of getting the ideas out of my head and through the keyboard and onto the screen—is necessary for me to be able to tell the truth. Only after getting my ideas out and developing them and wrestling with them in the voice that’s most natural to me can I go back and pepper in the life. I can delete paragraphs, add sentences, change verbs, create analogies, and alleviate tension. I can go back and add details about the way the snow stuck to my eyelashes or how the coffee burned my tongue.
But first, I have to write the story as it is in my mind before I can layer on the meaning.
I have to spill out my thoughts before I can shape them into things that are filled with meaning.
I have to give myself permission to write a dull first draft, trusting myself enough to make it beautiful later.
In doing so, I find that I actually take more risks than I do when I’m in one-draft-only mode. Some risks end terribly, but they can be deleted. Some risks turn out to be the key to the whole piece, the turning point I didn’t know I was trying to find, or the hidden meaning that ties all my words together.
I put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to get it right the first time in the rest of my life too. There’s this fear deep in my heart of making a mistake I can’t undo. There’s this fear of not making meaning of an event right as it’s happening, that it will slip on by if I don’t wrestle it into something beautiful right now. There’s this fear that I’m married to each thing I do and each word I say. And that fear makes me risk-averse in the worst way.
I’m finding that it’s okay to treat some parts of our lives as first drafts.
It’s not that this gives us permission to do whatever we want without fearing consequences, trusting God to clean up our mistakes or relying too heavily on the fact that He can redeem anything and make it beautiful.
It’s that we can trust that sometimes the lessons aren’t meant to be learned right away. Like a rich red wine, we may need some time to age before we can taste all the flavors and layers and nuances, before we are properly balanced and full-bodied and not so bitter.
Let’s give ourselves permission to take a leap without knowing exactly how it will turn out or what it will mean. Let’s trust ourselves and trust God to make meaning of it later, when we’ve had time to reflect. And let’s actually make the time and space to reflect well.
Let’s give ourselves permission to make a few mistakes, knowing that there are very few things in life that are so permanent that they cannot be undone or tried again or fixed up. The heavy decisions are certainly real and need to be taken seriously, but right now I’m talking about the thousands of little decisions we make each day, not the life-altering huge ones that come around a few times each year.
Let’s take risks and forget the ones that flop and embrace the ones that add vibrancy and new perspective.
Let’s give ourselves permission to push back against the pressure to do it all perfectly right now, the first time, for all time.Give yourself permission to write and be a messy first draft. Click To Tweet