I recently finished the first draft of a new book, Why Bother? Discovering the Desire to Find What’s Next and after I finished celebrating, and experiencing a little postpartum sadness as well, I reflected how much I learned writing this draft.
I think these lessons apply to any creative project, but you tell me what you think!
I’ve had so many books falter or fail in the last decade (whoa, that’s a long time!) that I wasn’t sure I would write another book. As I was writing this book, every now and then, I’d have the scary thought, “This book is going to fail too” and then I’d want to quit.
What kept me going was turn toward and experience my fear, welcome it, but not confuse it with the TRUTH or with my basic goodness.
My thoughts and feelings are just that: thoughts and feelings. When I greet them mindfully and compassionately, I can let them be as they are without getting all tangled up in them.
Sometimes projects go south for valid reasons, but too often we give up because we believe the voices in our heads are telling us the TRUTH. Don’t fall for it when your brain is being self-protective; it’s almost always a lie.
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT WILL BECOME
We write (or paint or knit or build our businesses) because we are curious and because we love to learn. As we create, we make discoveries and those discoveries change what we create. That’s great! That’s what makes it so much fun!
Follow that, pay attention to it, and…
THAT DOESN’T MEAN START A DIFFERENT PROJECT
I wrote a back cover blurb for the book, as well as my deep why, who my readers are, what my readers want, and a Table of Contents before I dove into writing. I have all my non-fiction mastermind writers do this. I HIGHLY recommend doing this kind of pre-work for both non-fiction and fiction alike.
About halfway through the first draft, I noticed myself rebelling against my plan. Feeling hemmed in by it. That was a mistake and luckily I (mostly) caught myself.
Still, after I read the first draft out loud (so important!), there were plenty of places I could have written a better book if I had stuck to my original plan. Which I will do for the second draft.
If you’re a creative who likes to make stuff up and to finish things, you will have to put up with boredom and repetition. If you know why you are doing your project, and are kind to yourself, you can do it.
YOUR PROJECT WILL PROBABLY HAVE AN UGLY STAGE
I’d be very embarrassed if you read my first draft. Reading it aloud was cringe-worthy at times, but I let myself be uncomfortable and disregarded the inner critic telling me all sorts of nasty crap.
All creatives have to endure the ugly stage. The trick is to be in this stage with self-compassion and openness, to not hurry to make the project tidy before you know what needs to be done next, and to not give up because you believe you can’t make it better.
You can. I know you can.
YOU WRITE THE BOOK YOU NEED TO READ
You become the person who can write that book by writing it. You become that person by sticking with your project and by letting what you are creating change you.
I learned I wanted to bother about the climate crisis by writing the book I need to read in a renewed way. Stay tuned for how this plays out, but if I had told myself, “You already have to know exactly how to bother about everything,” I would have shut down the learning that will make the second draft wiser.
Find ways to share your work in progress, either by talking about your characters or ideas with caring, like-minded people, or by reading your work in progress aloud at an open mic night or by working with a coach or a writing mastermind.
Do be careful whom you ask for first draft feedback because the wrong kind of feedback can shut you down. You want feedback from someone who is wise about big picture encouragement rather than nit-picking your word choices, for example. Jennie Nash wrote a great piece about how writing groups can go wrong.
I find simply having a creative friend or two who can cheer me on for doing the work as highly motivating.
DON’T FORGET TO CELEBRATE
It’s difficult to pay attention to what you did, rather than how you wish it had turned out. Focusing on your opinion about your work is deadly because you don’t have a clear idea if what you created works yet, and those opinions can be terribly demotivating.
Celebrate, notice, and talk about doing what you said you would do. Keep telling the voice that says, “But what if I can’t make it work?” that it can help you later because, right now, you’re celebrating.
So, that’s what I learned writing my first draft. What will I learn writing my second draft? I can’t wait to find out.