July 2020 Writing Update & Reflections on Rough Drafts

Wow! 2020 is halfway done! I don’t know about you, but I feel like this new decade has already felt like a full decade…

The coming of June meant it was back to work and school for me, but much to my surprise, the rhythm of summer so far has not been as hectic as I expected. Though still busy and full, I actually have time to breathe, which means I’ve been going for morning walks (the only time of day cool enough to step foot outside during Texas summer), writing my new book (almost) daily, try cooking and baking new recipes, read a lot for fun outside of class, and spend some (socially distant) time with friends.

Writing-wise, in June I kept up a consistent practice, writing at least 500 words a day most days of the month. The few days I didn’t write were due to either feeling exhausted from long stretches of time on my computer or dealing with computer issues. I ended up “restarting” the draft again this month, which partly set me back for the second time, but I have pulled a lot of the “new” beginning from pre-existing drafts. Like I said last month, beginnings are tough for me! I do feel like I’m starting to hit my stride again with this story, though, so hopefully I won’t have another restart this month! I’m hoping to continue the discipline of daily writing in July, and crossing my fingers that this consistent habit will carry over into the Fall semester, which—in spite of COVID-19 uncertainty—will likely be as busy as a normal semester.

While writing this month, I also had a small realization about writing rough drafts that I thought would be worth sharing. In an attempt to encourage my consistent writing practice, I posted a couple chapters of this brand new rough draft on my writers’ group forum. This is a big deal for me, because I normally wait to post for critique and feedback until my second draft—and for good reason, I soon remembered.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a rough draft, and longer still since I started one. The last rough draft I finished was in 2018, but the last one I stared was in 2017 or 2016. In other words, literal years have passed since I’ve started a new project. I’d forgotten how tricky beginnings can be for me, which I talked about in last month’s update. For all my stopping and resets, I’m trying to push forward with this rough draft without a solid outline because I truly do think that I will find my rhythm by pushing to the end. I also need to find that rhythm on my own, right now. Which brings me back to posting my rough draft start for critique.

I got some immediate, awesome feedback on my first two chapters. Feedback that I genuinely will use, if the chapters that were critiqued end up surviving. But I realized that the pressure of having others read my messy rough draft actually created an unneeded fear that stifled my creative fire.

What I’ve been realizing about myself lately is that I’m not really a great writer, but I am a decent storyteller. I exist in the world of ideas and concepts. Putting those to paper and words is extremely hard for me, and since I’ve fallen out of practice, I lost some of the writing “ease” I had developed via practice in high school. My rough draft writing process is messy because sometimes I genuinely have to force something on the page that I can shape later. In order for me to gush out that chunk of rough draft rock that I’ll later edit and revise into a more chiseled, shaped sculpture of a story, I need to feel free to be messy, because that’s the only way I can leap the divide between my ideas and translating them to others. I’m a perfectionist, too, which doesn’t help. I’m all for critiques—I’ve advocated for critiquing in the past and right now feel a little stuck in a few (2nd draft) projects because I lack feedback in order to proceed. But I’ve realized yet again that my rough drafts need to be for my eyes only in order for me to persist. I don’t think that’s fear of criticism talking, I genuinely think that’s just how my creative process works best. I need to feel free to explore and imagine and develop those ideas in messy glory, and having the feedback and expectations of others only creates barriers to that process.

I share this because I hope it’s encouraging to my fellow writers. Don’t be afraid to be messy. Find freedom to explore in your rough drafts. You can always edit later, once you’ve gushed out all of your story in untamed scrawl and ink splotches. It’s very humbling to come to the realization that I’m not an awesome writer. The writing part of my passion is actually the hardest part for me! I wouldn’t be surprised if this new book is the worst thing I’ve written. In fact, I kind of hope it is, because in my own humility and the weakness of my calling, there I can truly find Christ in my craft.

So, with that, here’s to another month of messy, terrible writing, my friends.