I’m working on a first draft of the book. It’s messy and vague and convoluted. The grammatical acuity is comparable to the work of a high-achieving fourth grader. I start too many sentences with “sometimes” and needlessly use the word “just.” (It’s just that… I just want to say…) Even worse, when I get bogged down with heavy content, I start forcing shallow humor that devolves into annoying bathroom references or confessions of how infrequently I wash my hair.
Three months ago I signed a book contract and every night since then, I’ve stayed awake at night staring at the ceiling and inventorying all the ways the task is unfinished.
I’ll occasionally spend the wee hours of the morning writing and other times spend them simply worrying about the writing.
For Christmas, I received a couple of gigantic ceramic mugs that friends suggested “would be great for soup!” I now drink coffee out of them and applaud myself for limiting my coffee intake to a reasonable portion size of one cup a day.
My beloved friends and family members keep asking, “How is the writing going?” And I respond with a deeply perplexed look and mildly aggressive tone: “I don’t know.”
Then I quickly leave the room so any follow up questions will be directed at Molly, who replies with nonsensical jibber-jabber that I’m sure translates to “Leave her alone. She is a creative genius. Now, please say ‘peekaboo’ and peak out from behind your cupped hands again. That was hilarious.”
When interested strangers ask me what I’m writing about, I respond with the same perplexed look and the same aggressive tone and then shout back as if we are midway through an argument: “I don’t know!”
I have not made many new friends recently.
I met with my editor early this week who is kind and smart and supremely patient with me as I speak to her in a tumble of unpunctuated sentences: “I don’t know what I’m trying to say anymore and I can’t show the writing to anyone because it is disastrously terrible and it takes me a whole day to write three sentences that I delete tomorrow and are you sure you still want to publish this unwritten book of mine”
Then I accidentally describe my writing with a collection of inappropriate, often four-letter, words which is offensive since I am a Christian writer writing a Christian book for a Christian publisher.
My editor just smiles and says, “Yes. This is normal. Keep going.”
She then reminds me what I already know but consistently forget and that is that I shouldn’t get stuck revising when I need to keep writing. I need to let the first draft be hard and unfinished and imperfect. I need to keep going even when the words aren’t glossy or grammatically correct yet, even when my first draft isn’t what most would deem “readable.”
It’s really hard to resolutely linger in the first draft—whether it is in writing or parenting or simply living– because the whole thing acts as verifiable evidence that I don’t know what I’m doing.
And since parenting is now on the table, I must tell you that my creative muse and adorable daughter is going through a small bout of sleep trouble. When I say “a small bout” I mean that she hasn’t slept for more than two consecutive hours in the past week.
Before I had children, I balked at the hoards of parents that would stream to natural baby stores, or large bookstores, or, heaven help us, Babies R’ Us to spend reckless amounts of discretionary income on folky, unscientific cures to sleepless nights. I used to secretly clothe myself in condescension and take invisible oaths to only purchase baby products with verifiable functionality.
But yesterday I found myself in the heart of a natural baby store hidden away in downtown Colorado Springs. Their primary product offering was different manifestations of cloth diapers, although they had a surprisingly extensive selection of children’s toys made out of the unadulterated bamboo.
I stumbled into the store wearing the San Diego residue of an outfit completely ill suited to the Colorado winter. It involved skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and a lightweight blazer that casually bunched around the elbows.
My wrists were freezing.
Then, in a blur of exhaustion and what I suspect to be low-grade hypothermia, I spent $26 on a baby necklace that promises to cure baby teething by leaking natural pain killers through the necklace’s beads directly onto the skin.
Shortly afterwards, I called Mike to tell him about the purchase and he spent the rest of the afternoon emailing me medical articles about how scientifically unsubstantiated these necklaces are.
I didn’t care.
I would have bought ten necklaces for one night of uninterrupted sleep.
And this, you see, is the reason I’ve become the problem with American consumerism in child rearing. Desperate exhaustion is the cure for historical condescension.
I responded to my husband’s educational emails with shouty, all-caps text messages that, in retrospect, probably egged him on. We have since recovered.
For the record, Molly did not sleep any better last night, even with the beads wrapped loosely around her pudgy baby ankle. I’m now investigating essential oils paired with desperate intercession and weeping.
I hear this is normal, this first draft parenting, this not-knowing-at-all-what-I’m-doing and occasionally getting bamboozled into hearsay remedies that may or may not work. (If they worked for you, please accept my sincere and envious congratulations).
The problem is that I want to be editing my life into a publishable testimonial when the only present-tense option is messy, experimental drafting. I would prefer to have a system, a habit, a cure, without first trudging through the freezing unknown.
I said these words to several encouraging friends yesterday while driving or standing upright to stay awake.
Arica spoke such sweet, encouraging truths about parenting while relentlessly iterating “This is such a short season, Bekah. It’s so short. The sleeplessness will pass. It will pass. I promise.”
Later, my super-smart writer friend Raquel matter-of-factly stated, “Of course you don’t know what you’re writing about yet. You have to write and write and write to figure out what you are trying to say. This is the season of discovery.”
And then my friend Troy lingered on the phone with me laughing until tears escaped the outside corners of our eyes. “My parenting strategy is basically to Google something until I find something that confirms what I want to hear,“ she said. And I nodded in agreement and breathed heavy sighs of relief. “Apparently,” I replied, “My parenting strategy is to outfit my child in baby jewelry until she sleeps through the night.”
This week I’ve read several fantastic articles about beginning the year with intentionality: picking a theme or setting goals or choosing a mantra word. I read them and nod in wholehearted agreement while my journal sits empty but well intentioned beside me.
I intend to tailor my 2015 down to a central theme or pare the life ahead into a coherent strategy. I would very much like to have a bulleted list to cling to as an organized inventory of my annual productivity. But in this moment, I must confess to you that I’m living in the messy first draft.
I am a dry sponge praying for a deep saturation of grace in between Googling “diaper rash bath” and “teething + constipation.”
I write words and delete words and hold them up to the light of Christ and continuously ask, “Is this true?”
In each season, in the middle of the night or the beginning of a New Year, I continue to relearn the different ways my God is the grace-provider and perfection-substitute for my brittle, tentative humanness.
He is the Author and Perfector of my faith while I am the earnest first draft working out the faithfulness of the season and trying stay awake through the 3:00pm hour.
He is persistently present and I am aggressively needy and this is how we are beginning the New Year. It is an uneven collaboration, a deity-driven group project. He is the sturdy staff supporting this determined cripple.
I am a first draft in progress, and if you are, too, let’s be friends. It’s difficult to summarize a season while it’s still in progress, while it looks tired and absent of any completed resolutions. But let’s run back to the Author; let’s setup a meeting with the supreme Editor and layout our first draft insecurities and overwhelming unfinishedness and He can respond with: “This is normal. Keep going. My grace will surprise you with its sufficiency.“
Let’s cling to the promise that God is both immediately accessible and boundlessly loving, that He is the source of all good gifts and He loves to share, that by some miracle of grace, He is orchestrating a magnificent narrative and reeling us into His goodness and astonishingly propelling us towards a four-letter conclusion of “Amen.”