Writing from the Deeper Self

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Writing from the Deeper Self

First Drafts

Think of a first draft like an artist's sketch.

By Naomi Rose | Updated November 11, 2018

Sometimes you can be in such an inspired and aligned state that every word you write is a keeper, and there's nothing to do at the end but raise your eyes to the heavens and give thanks, then go take a walk or a bath, or play with your child or your cat. But more often, what you write will be a first draft, to be refined over time by further thinking, sensing, and leaps of understanding.

Unless you have had a lot of experience doing first drafts, and then seeing how they lead to more clear, full, and subtle refinements — and even if you have had experience — it can be frustrating to have to withstand the impatience and edginess that writing a first draft brings about. You know that what's on the paper isn't "it," but you don't know yet what "it" is — and that gap between the yearned-for and the actual (at least for now) creates a level of discomfort (in some extreme cases, anguish) that can be difficult to bear. It can easily lead to an onslaught of self-doubts about the writing, and, by extension, about your talent in general, and, by devious extension, about you.

But wait. There is hope. Things don't, perhaps can't, always reveal themselves at once. A draft is a beginning, something real put down on paper. It may not inspire you when you read it, or even tell you what to do next; but it does provide a something, a foundation, to build on, even if you end up only using the pillars of the foundation and replacing the walls.

If you think of a draft as a sketch, like a visual artist's sketch, you can get a clearer, more trusting picture of what a draft is for. When a visual artist makes a sketch just for practice, she may put intricate details in her drawing. But if the sketch is a preparation for a more detailed work — say, an oil painting, with the sketch first done in quick charcoal strokes on the bare white canvas — more likely the artist will put in large shapes, forms, and strokes in various places to see how they build up a whole composition.

If you can imagine an experienced (i.e., trusting-in-the-process) artist at a blank canvas with a piece of black charcoal in her hand, trying out an arc here, a circle there, a rise and fall of line there to see what is emerging — whether a landscape, an abstraction, human figures, a still life, or any of myriad things it "could" eventually be — you would be entranced by the apparent dance between the artist and the canvas, as she comes close, makes a stroke, then another, another, then stands back to view how these individual strokes cohere. Eventually, a picture settles into view as a sketch, a foundation to work from in order to bring what the sketch suggests to life.

In the process of refinement, the visual artist will likely amend, adapt, erase, and add various things. What was background may now become more important; what was in shadow may be rendered in light. Colors may change, as the spirit of the painting informs the technical aspects. But if the original sketch were not there — although a painting could have been done directly, without one (and many have been) — there would be no place from which to develop; to find the greater subtleties and aliveness out of the original, sketchy, frequently awkward beginnings.

If, in your writing, you can regard your draft as a sketch, as a foundation you are laying down so that you can later see what refinements want to take place, you will have more patience with yourself and more interest and curiosity about the process — about how this comes to pass in your particular piece of writing. That moment when the writing turns from awkward and labored to flowing, spacious and true is one of the great celebrations in a writer's life.

But it rarely happens automatically. More often, it has to simmer in the crucible of your being, cook on the back burner of your consciousness, and only then, when it's ready on its own terms, come forth from within you. And when it does, it will be not a labored, artificial effort, but a gift — of you and from you and to you — causing you to say, if not "Eureka!" ("I found it!"), at least, in a most heartfelt way, "Wow!" and "Thank you!" and "Thank God!" No less than the drafts of your own life, which is also a work in the making, not fixed in stone or beyond redemption on account of mistakes, your writing will move into a state of grace if you stay with it, care for it, cultivate it, and love what's bringing it into being.

©2006 Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.

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