Falling Out of Love With the First Draft

Let go or die. Your current form will leave you stuck—until you kill it.

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You don’t get things right the first time.

You have to try again, apply for another job, start dating after you get rejected.

You’ll never write a perfect 1st draft—or 7th.

Of course, I knew that when I started writing a book. But when we experience something, we know it on a whole different level, don’t we? The transformation happens when we learn to let go of what we tried before. Joseph Campbell says it like this:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

And:

“If we fix on the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction. Hell is life drying up.”

Jesus said:

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Your life can’t get better if it stays as it is. A transformation is required. Death and resurrection is the pattern of everything. (More on that later.)  A manuscript won’t become a worthwhile book unless it goes through the process of transformation: writing, rewriting, cutting out what doesn’t belong, reframing and refining what does—over and over again.

Kill the Previous Drafts

I sent the manuscript to my editor, hesitating just before I hit “Send,” wondering if I spelled everything right or used correct punctuation. Will she tell me it’s trash and the world doesn’t need another few hundred pages of uninteresting stories and attempts to find meaning in the mundane?

This journey began 5 years ago, on the kitchen table in a 1,400 square foot house in a shady neighborhood in Southern Oregon. The sentences clumsily spilled onto the computer screen, my nervous excitement to marry Kati working its way through my psyche to search for some kind of stability in the middle of changing circumstances, changing relationships, and a changing life.

I wanted it to be perfect, to get it right the first time—but that was a vain dream. Anne Lamott reminds us:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

Nothing in your life is perfect as it is.

Something will change, and what you had before won’t sustain you any longer.

Your path is to constantly evolve—to revise your life as you go.

Curse the fear of failure and try anyway.

During our first year of marriage, Kati worked overnight in the hospital. I shut off the lights in the house—except for the string of faded white Christmas lights—and turned on ambient instrumental music before I got to work at the kitchen counter some nights, then back to the table. I went to coffee shops for new scenery when Kati slept during the weekend days. The words were still clumsy, but the story began taking shape.

When we moved across the country with our little SUV packed to the gills, I set aside the manuscript for a time when I wasn’t so distracted by a new city, a new job, and a new routine. We got settled. I played it safe—too safe.

That’s when the ache creeped in, and it wouldn’t let me rest anymore.

No longer would it suffice to talk about having written a book. No more tweeting links to a bland blog entry about good intentions to publish. The story had to coalesce into a coherent, funny, adventurous journey of discovery along with readers, inviting them to participate fully in their ambitions, faith, and relationships. Hundreds of pages and thousands of words had to be fashioned into something that tapped into the universal truths we instinctively know but need reassurance of, and the meaning we anchor ourselves to in trying times. Shaping and reshaping a project like that is not something one can accomplish alone.

Desperate for Transformation

Resolved to prepare the book for public consumption, I timidly submitted the manuscript to an editor—because God knows it wasn’t even close to ready, not by a long shot. The editor spoke firm, necessary counsel about where my writing needed to improve, and I walked away with a lot more to change, details to add, tangents to trash, and more vulnerability to tap into.

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For 30 hours alone at a lakeside cabin, I re-read and edited the entire manuscript for the 6th time. My red pen crossed out entire paragraphs and pages, and it scribbled fresh transitions in place of clunky prose. I spent the past year reorganizing the chapters, course-correcting the narrative flow, unpacking the core themes even more directly, and learning Leonardo da Vinci was right:

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Unless I made a final push to publish it, I’d be stuck in the endless cycle of revision. This manuscript needed to fly the coop and live out in the wild.

Then you—165 of you who preordered the book—put faith in my heart and cash in my hands to make the book a reality at last. We fully funded the Kickstarter campaign, and now we’re in the final stretch of this marathon: after 7 drafts, one last round of edits.

My wonderful editor, Chantel, explained the process we’ve followed so far:

  • First read (no corrections or edits—just getting a sense of the manuscript as a whole)
  • Second read (copyediting notes—word choice, clarity, sentence structure, spelling/grammar)
  • Third read (proofreading notes—spelling/grammar/style guide)
  • Fourth read (second proof and a few more copyediting notes)

Straight from my editor’s most recent email:

“I’ve seen this manuscript grow and change over the course of a year, and what readers are getting when they buy your book is proof that you are committed to helping others, being vulnerable, and growing as a writer. For a ‘rather adamant introvert,’ you also certainly have a knack for connecting with everyone who crosses your path! We all have something to learn from The Variable Life.”

Up Next:

  • After these edits, a final proofread.
  • Then formatting the finalized text in page layouts and ordering test printed copies to ensure it comes out right.
  • All signs point to books sent your way in February.

With that, I’ll get back to work making those changes while thinking of you. It’s almost ready for you, friend.

I hope it helps you live you very own variable life with confidence and clarity.

***

Don’t miss the fun updates, stories, and (super cool) giveaways coming soon:

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