I’ve been struggling a lot over the past few months in starting a new post, or a new piece of writing for myself, and faltering a few paragraphs in, not sure what to do with myself. A large part of this, as was mentioned in a previous post, is due to my habit of editing as I write. I don’t often plan my writing ideas, put them in some flow chart or other organizational structure, or summarize the points I want to make before I write. This helps keep my writing natural, and keep its place as a release valve rather than work. This also puts me in the position of sitting down with what seems to be a well-formulated idea, only to have it peter out faster than anticipated.
I recently had a conversation with someone who pointed out that this isn’t necessarily bad, as it still shows that I’m thinking about these topics. I start to second-guess my own thoughts. It also means that I am still writing, even if the finished product does not get produced as prolifically as I would ideally have it. All this has led me to think about the importance of completing projects in life, and to what extent my large folder of draft documents can be justified and excused.
I am prolific in writing, or at least beginning, first drafts. However, due to laziness (and the fact that most of my writing is for mental processing, not really for serious consumption) my first drafts become glorified pre-final drafts. Upon a scan for grammar and typos, a small rewording every so often, it transforms into the final draft. I spent a semester in AP Language and Composition poring over every small word in a page-long essay. While the skills are still there (I edit for others quite frequently) I find it difficult to do so for myself.
Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that drafts really do matter. Drafts (of anything, not just writing) are the free space where the creator can make mistakes, silly decisions, and grow frustrated with a topic. A draft is something full of liberty, before whatever forces which require a final draft descend to urge real work to occur. I take joy in creating drafts. While I lack the motivators others may have, of both internal and external nature, to eventually form these into final drafts, I still enjoy the process. It lets me begin to work through a topic. Many times I will bring up a topic of conversation with someone that has no business in that particular conversation — it normally means that I recently started a rough draft, and I need the conversation to push my thoughts out in a way that couldn’t be done in a vacuum. This is all a part of the drafting process, and I love it. Drafts matter, so take joy in them, even if they never get advanced beyond a few lines and a couple of minutes’ thought.
Many times the reason that a draft never moves forward to “consumption-level” of writing is because I did not let the idea fester in my mind long enough, and I tried to do too much with too little right away. For example, an idea that I was very excited about when it first came in my head was the state of education research in colleges, where many times we are told openly that we are test subjects, and will be submitted to semi-random quizzes about how a class is going. It has always been my experience that this is distracting and unhelpful, leading to students being resentful; even worse, if a method (golden example of the flipped classroom) is deemed worthy of widespread use, it is automatically assumed that this can help make poor teachers better. Everything that I just typed is essentially all I had typed down when I first tried to attack this idea. After a few short conversations with other people, I just could not manage to add to this idea. And so a relatively small idea was smothered to death by too much excitement surrounding it.
On the other end of this spectrum, an idea can become so massive that I have to separate myself from it in order to achieve a more general clarity, and potentially break it down into more manageable topics. A good example of this are my thoughts on pushing and pulling: it took almost 5 months before I was able to write a short post, only stating that I had come to no conclusions and was almost entirely overwhelmed by it. The more I write, the more I realize I must find the proper habitable zone for my ideas. When something grabs me, I have to be able to judge how reasonable the idea is, and explore it a bit before deciding if it is worth sitting down to write about it. Beginning the first draft always helps to flesh out where my thoughts are, but not being able to finish a first draft is a mental barrier to me. Even if it’s a bad ending, I like to be able to have something completed to work with.
Does Completion Matter?
If I were to put my money on it, every single motivational speaker and self-help book would say without hesitation that the completion of a project, just doing the thing you want, is the most important part of living a happy and successful life. In many cases, I agree. For example, I’d like to create a complete computer game this summer. If I only finish half of it ever, I will have failed without argument.
With writing, I am less convinced.
Of course, if someone were contracted to actually write something for money, that would be a different matter entirely. But for myself, I have become a bit more at ease with my unfinished thoughts. First, I know they are there, open for conversation with myself and others. Second, they are not failures in themselves, as each draft helps me understand what may be wrong with how I’ve approached an idea, find better methods to pick apart my thoughts, and also give me the resolve (and excuse) to be done with an idea for now and move onto something that I am more immediately concerned with. The freedom to find something new, combined with the perseverance to stick with the current project (along with the accumulating experience to help balance the two) is very important to me. Despite having this blog (but acknowledging it’s very low readership) on which I do post some of my writing, the process continues to be a way for my to work with interesting ideas, and allow me to hold conversations with people. Even if the completed work never materializes, I know that the thought and work that went into the idea helped me get a lot out.