The most liberating thing[s] I’ve ever read.

by Todd Foley

Some people look at a blank page as exciting, opportunistic, fun. To me, every blank page screams “you don’t have anything worthwhile to say.”

For years I hated writing without a plan, without a strategy, without a vision. I would start, then delete right away. If a sentence was lucky enough to stay on the page, I would immediately scrutinize each word and begin hacking – often before the sentence even saw a period. I made a lifestyle of editing while writing. Terrified of anyone seeing the incomplete text before it reached perfection.

This didn’t just occur on paper. I often went through my days with extreme attention to detail, making sure my projected persona was suitable. Sufficient. Strong.

Then Anne Lamott saved my life as a writer.

In her book Bird by Bird, Lamott normalizes what every writer faces with each project: shitty first drafts (her words, not mine – although I can’t think of any other way to say it). She says it best:

“All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. Quieting these voices is as least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent.”

This simple but profound phrase helped shift my fear of inadequacy to a perspective of ongoing progress. All I’m able to do is spew out whatever I can at first, then the shaping process begins.

My life is an ongoing draft and each day brings more revisions – cutting things out, adding things in and refocusing my vision. Contrived metaphor, I know, but it’s the truth.

Which brings me to the other most liberating piece of writing I’ve ever come across.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

My Creator sees my flaws, errors and shortcomings but also unearths my strengths, gifts and potential. We’re all part of a longstanding narrative that’s constantly being unveiled; I find my peace knowing that He holds the final draft in His hands.

Happy editing!

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