A few weeks ago, a client of mine attended a webinar on editing your second draft that was taught by Allison K. Williams.
Allison’s the author of the forthcoming book Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. FYI: I highly recommend you pre-order a copy of this book.
During this rave-worthy session, Allison said, “Our job in draft one is to gather the clay we’ll later shape into a story.”
I imagine she means that like a potter digging in the earth, we spend a lot of time during the first draft amassing words without really expecting them to do or be anything. We just need material. The only way to gather that clay is to write things down.
As I meditated on this line, I began to think about the various kinds of clay we gather during the writing process.
Of course, there are the words on the page, but what other clay must we stockpile? How does it help us shape the material we gather into something beautiful?
Whenever we start a project, whether it’s the first or the final draft, we must gather our courage.
The courage to believe we have something important to say.
The courage to tell the truth.
The courage to keep going even when our internal editor says, “Give up.”
The courage to finish when we’re afraid of success.
The courage to admit when we need to learn new skills.
The courage to start again without seeing our previous attempts as failures.
Each day that we show up, we demonstrate our belief in ourselves, the process, and our projects.
We amass courage by naming our fears and sitting with them, by trying again, by treating ourselves with kindness, and by reaching out to others when we’re feeling vulnerable.
As we build this courage and our word count, we mine the vein of imagination inside us.
Imagination is our ability to form new ideas and make new connections that are not perceived through our senses.
While we can use our logical mind to think up new ideas, imagination exists in the unconscious. It’s aligned with our intuition—the very wise part of us that makes decisions without rational thought.
To access your imagination, you have to do three things: schedule alone time, allow for boredom, and find ways to play.
You also have to clear your mind by slowing down and reducing distractions so that you’re ready to listen to what it has to share with you.
If your imagination feels far away from you, write a letter to it and ask what it wants. Pay attention to this message.
We know we’ve hit the vein of imagination when our stories wake us up in the middle of the night with a plot solution, or share an important idea while we’re in the shower, or when a character wants to deviate from our original plan.
Imagination is the power that fuels our writing and takes us into the state of flow where the work is easy, and we’re rewarded for our efforts.
What writer doesn’t love a story that talks to us and tells us what to do?
But sometimes imagination eludes us.
That’s where perseverance comes in. Perseverance, or continued effort in spite of difficulties, failures, or opposition, is the most essential clay of all. It’s born from courage and flexing it will bring your imagination back to you.
Perseverance is a practice, not a destination. It requires regular training and at times, coaching from loving friends. Its strength will determine whether you think about becoming a writer or you actually become one.
We persevere when something is meaningful, and the reward is valuable. For many people, getting published isn’t a big enough reward to overcome the inevitable rejections we all face.
That’s why I always tell writers to establish a personal intention for their projects and then gather a collection of affirmations they can rely on. It’s also why a writing community is so important.
Sometimes we get discouraged or we feel lost. A loving, supportive writing community can normalize your experiences and build you up when times are tough.
With each draft, we gather more of this clay. It’s the sustenance that helps us finish our projects. Because the writing life is about learning to live with discomfort, we can never have too much of it.
This is something I can personally attest to. As many of you know, I’ve spent the last three years working on my memoir: How Not to Die: A Memoir of Suicide, Rock-n-Roll, and Resilience.
I’m currently line editing the last fifty pages. Every time I start a draft, I experience a momentary burst of panic where I forget how to write. Then I gather my clay and begin.
The first fifty pages of this final draft were a major slog. Then I hit the vein of imagination and the next 150 flew by. Now, with fifty pages of line editing left, my pencil shakes as it hovers over each page. My stomach pinches inward, my neck muscles tighten.
“This is it,” I say, first with a hint of joy, and then a tinge of fear, and finally a helping of grief, because finishing means I have to let this story go for a while.
I’m experienced enough to know that submitting my book to agents isn’t the end of the revision process. There are more iterations to come.
When they arrive, I’ll follow Allison’s advice. I’ll gather my clay, having faith that each time I do, I’ll be a little closer to getting this book published.
So, how are you gathering your clay?
How is it helping you sustain your writing practice?