For as long as I’ve been making up weird little bits of stories or characters and scratching them down onto paper, I’ve dreaded writing rough drafts.
You see, until now I employed what I like to call the “one-and-done” method, wherein I took twelve hours to write a five-page paper because I self-edited every little thing along the way and refused to print it until it was perfect. My first drafts weren’t rough. They were immaculate, polished, and highly-structured in ABCDE format. And with academic papers, that’s pretty much worked out for me.
But as for my real work–the odd stories that spill onto paper from my bursting heart and frantic mind, the ones where a little bit of myself has nestled into a home between the commas and periods? The ones I actually care about? They give me a bit more trouble. They are passionate, weird, funny, rambling, yes, but once I hand them in to be edited, I realize they are nothing close to perfect. In fact, they’re pretty much a ridiculous mess the first time I get them out. They put the “rough” in “rough draft.”
When I first took a fiction course here, I was told, by my very brilliant writing teacher, that you should be okay with the idea that your first drafts would always pretty much be terrible. And I didn’t understand why for a very long time. But now, I’m reading a book for the Creative Writing–Fiction Sequence called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which is a book about writing as much as it is about life. In one of her chapters on the writing process, the author talks about the importance of writing these terrible rough drafts:
“There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you are supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go–but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages” (Lamott 23).
As I was rereading this in bed last night, I realized that if I wasn’t okay with writing something that might be terrible, I’d probably never write anything at all, much less anything good. And, in an epiphany moment, I discovered that his advice completely applies to making plans for ourselves as well. Our own plans will crash and burn eventually, and we need to be okay with failed rough drafts, or we’ll never get to where we’re really supposed to go.
Take me, for instance. Who I am today is an amalgam of my own terrible rough-draft plans and God’s perfect ones. I’ve been making terrible rough drafts from the beginning, even if I didn’t realize it. Prime example: my life goals found in my seventh-grade diary.
“I am going to be famous. When I try out for American Idol, there will be two outcomes. One is I will win, get a record deal, become famous, meet Daniel Radcliffe, and get married to him. The second one is lose, get an agent, get a record anyway, become famous, meet Daniel Radcliffe, and get married to him. So either way I win.”
–Me, age 13
In seventh grade, marriage to the British celebrity who played Harry Potter and winning the most popular reality show on American television in order to become famous seemed like noble life goals. It was the equivalent of one of those rough drafts that is the most brilliant thing written by anybody in the entire history of humanity until you look at it a few years later and shudder at the idea that you ever considered showing this to someone and realize, sadly, that you were actually even more obnoxious at that age than you remember.
But, as ridiculous as this sounds, on page five and-a-half of this rough draft of fame and fortune was high school choir, which led to my involvement with theatre, which led to Northwestern, my involvement with Cru, and becoming a Christian. To think what would have happened if I had never made those terrible seventh-grade plans in the first place! And though I came to Northwestern to do theatre, which was a terrible rough draft in retrospect, God gently closed those doors to me, and I ended up rediscovering my love for children at the end of my freshman year. So I began studying education, which (at least as far as I know) is a plan that God’s had in mind for me all along (this is an example of God’s ironic sense of humor, of course, because I remember being a freshman in high school and swearing that I wouldn’t teach if my life depended on it). It’s apparent that on my own, I might write some pretty awful rough drafts, but if I didn’t write anything at all, He would have nothing to edit. And He is an excellent editor, the best at turning horrible things into wonderful things–we see this most evidently in the Gospel.
So, what are my plans now? Well, I’m not sure (funny how certain I was in seventh grade, right?). I have a lot of them and I don’t know if I’ll be able to do just one or more than one or what combination or when or where. But here’s a few things I’d like to do after graduation.
1. Global missions. This past summer I realized that God has called me to go! Don’t know where or when, but, God willing, soon after college! I could move overseas to teach and do ministry, or could go somewhere during summers if I stay in the United States and work. Could be Africa, Europe, Asia. I don’t know–I just want to see where He puts me. This one is super important to me, but it depends on a lot of things.
2. Get married and start a family. Also hopefully soon after college. I really want to get married, I loved growing up in a big family, and I’d want to be able to have a big family of my own one day. This is also super important to me, but we’ll see what God has in mind.
3. Be a stay-at-home mom. Contingent upon no. 3, obviously. I’d love to stay home to raise my kids if it were possible.
4. Grad school. Possibly for teaching, writing, or maybe even seminary. I don’t know where or when in the timeline this would come, if at all.
5. Teach. Unless life works out to where I can become a stay-at-home mom, this will be my job. Could be at an international school, a public high school, a private Christian school, or ESL in a foreign country. I don’t know. I’m flexible at this point.
6. Write and publish a book. Yeah, this would be a cool one. Maybe a novel. Maybe a memoir. I don’t know.
7. Travel. I’ve never been out of the United States. Except to Canada. Which doesn’t count because I live in Michigan and it’s only 40 minutes away.
These seven things are broad strokes I have in mind for the rough draft of my life plan. They aren’t perfect or polished at all, but I think I’m okay with that. I’m not sure what God’s going to keep, what He’s going to edit out. But I don’t have to freak out about writing terrible rough drafts. I can just write, because I am certain that when He’s done, the rough draft is going to look a whole lot better than when it started.
With much love,