Throwing Away Your First Draft Is a Great Idea

On the occasion of throwing out the first 14,000 words of a manuscript

Last month I shared the 8,000 of 14,000 words of a new project with my writing group. It was the first two chapters of a novel, just the beginning of the story really. With these two chapters I’d taken a risk. I tried something interesting and—at least to my mind—unique. I was excited about it, and I had high hopes for it. I really wanted it to work. But of course, it didn’t.

Aside from the usual first draft issues, the writing was pretty good and everyone was interested in both the story and the world. But it didn’t work because no writer is good enough to ignore (not break artfully like the greats, but ignore) the structure of good stories. Which is exactly what I had done in my “experiment.” But that’s another post for another day. What matters for today is that I chucked it in the bin.

Almost all 14,000 of those words will never see the light of day. They will just sit there in my boneyard folder until bit rot or a crashing hard drive claims them. Any writer knows the feeling. It can be gut-wrenching.

That’s a lot of work to throw away. And don’t kid yourself, when it leaves your manuscript, you’re throwing it away. You might think, “Oh, there’s good stuff in there. I might find a use for it one day.” And you might. It’s completely possible. But for most of those words, this is the end of the line.

But the experienced writer knows the truth: Not one bit of progress was lost in that moment. Nope, not a single word was wasted. I had to write the first 14,000 words. Because it’s the only way to get to 14,001.

That is the way to measure progress. A writer who really understands their craft knows that there are hundreds of thousands of more words behind the 150,000 words in a novel. There are hundreds of words behind the scant 16 lines of a poem. For every word a reader reads on the printed page, likely a hundred or more were written.

So no, it didn’t feel good to toss out three full chapters of a book. And yes, I might be able to find some use for a few scraps. But every single one of those words that I tossed out had to be written. In a real way they are just as much a part of the book as the ones readers will actually read.

Never be afraid to throw away a draft that doesn’t work. It’s just one step closer to something that does.


Colophon

Colophon \ˈkä-lə-fən, -ˌfän\  — an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript usually with facts relative to its production

The colophon is set for a comeback. With so many new digital publishing options, platforms and approaches, there is a natural opening and call for sites to share how they do what they do. In the spirit of the traditional colophon, I offer this summary of the tools behind this site.

Typography

I approached the typographic design of this site with two goals in mind. First, to not slow down page load (i.e. no cloud-hosted fonts). Second, to feel natural and of a piece with the device platform. So, I am using a prioritized font stack that degrades from the preferred font down to the system fonts.

The preferred font is Avenir, and if that font is not installed, then I use this implementation of native system fonts.

Software

Hosting & Services


Revisiting Hogwarts

It’s unfortunate that the writers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child didn’t heed the very lesson they tried to teach their protagonists.

You can never go home again.

I kept thinking about this idea as I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When I read the script last weekend, I wanted to go back to Hogwarts again. It turns out that’s hard to do, even for the creator.

For a work that is to my mind clearly not the “eighth Harry Potter Book,” this might be a harsh way to judge it. So let’s consider this post a reaction, rather than a review. I’ll have more to say later, but these are my first thoughts, unaffected by the opinions of other Potter fans.

My first thought is that honestly, this is a work doesn’t need to exist. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun reading it. It was nice to see old friends grown up and in new situations. But it was also like a strange high school reunion. It’s a disorienting experience to be reunited with people who you’ve known since your childhood and who you walked the most formative experiences of your life with. Everyone is the same, but different—and not always for the better.

At first reading, this story seemed to do the one thing I hoped it would not. It changes the way I see the canonical series ending. And I don’t think the change honors the original series.

To be honest, I’m, disappointed in the play, even though there are plenty of great moments. Ms. Rowling did not write the script, but she does receive the lead credit on the story team. It’s unfortunate that she used her literary Time Turner to go back and revisit something so magnificent. Though I wish it was not true, this addition did not improve what was already perfected. If only the writer’s of this play would have heeded the lesson their protagonists learn about revising history.


3 Reasons Why You Should Keep a Productivity Journal

Every day at 4pm, my phone dings with a reminder to write a journal entry. And (almost) every day I stop what I am doing and take a few moments to write about my day. It’s a simple act, but it is a crucial part of my productivity practice.

Unless you read all of the productivity nerd blogs like I do, you probably have no clue what a “productivity journal” is. I didn’t either until a few years ago, but in that time this practice has become deeply important to my growth and productivity.

While more explanation is warranted, a productivity journal is simply a collection of daily entries summarizing your priorities, accomplishments, failures, and struggles.

Why is keeping a productivity journal so important for me? Why do I think everyone who is interested in growth and productivity should keep one? It comes down to three benefits.

A journal maintains our focus on what matters most

I don’t know about you, but I often lose sight of what matters over the course of the day. Every morning I start with a review that keeps me current with all my various inboxes and sets my priorities for the day. And very often by 4pm I have either finished everything I needed to, or got pulled off course by distractions. Either way, I tend to end my days with a cloudier view of my priorities than when I started.

The actor of journaling resets my focus. Sitting down to record what happened, detailing successes and failures, and thinking through what’s next clarifies the day. It puts the activities of the day into perspective. Did I meet my goals? Did I fail my team? Do I need to change something in response? What is one key thing I must do tomorrow? The act of thinking through these questions helps to settle my mind and organize my thoughts.

A journal is raw material for reflection

Reflection is a major part of my approach to productivity. In fact, it is the thing that keeps me on track. Leaving the much larger subject of reflection for other posts, the salient point is that regular, honest reflection on our decisions and outcomes is crucial to successfully implementing productive practices.

The journal serves two specific functions in my approach. First, by keeping a journal, each day I take time to reflect on the day. This has a self-ordering effect of sorting the days actions and decisions into a few camps. I can reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t. I also contemplate how I sinned or struggled to love others well. And finally I start to grapple with what the next day will bring. These areas all inform my understanding of the day. They are an immediate touch point for me on what matters most.

Second, the permanent recording of these events and thoughts serve as grist for further reflection down the road. Reviewing a week, month, or even a year’s worth of journal entries reveals patterns of success and failure both. The raw data of each day’s thoughts can be used to construct a far more accurate view of my life and choices. It is the starting point for considering what changes need to be made so I can live a life that glorifies God.

A journal is a great transition out of your work day

The final reason I find journalling to be so important is that it helps me begin to unwind my mind from the daily tasks, issues, and frustrations of work. It sums up the day—for good or for bad—in a way that allows me to put work away and switch modes.

This frees me up to focus my thoughts on my wife and what she needs, or on personal projects that lie in wait at home. It helps me transition from one area of life to another cleanly. It sorts the mental debris of the day in an ordered way for the next day’s work. It’s cleans up the mental workbench, and shuts off the workshop lights.

The importance of journalling does not lie in the journal itself, but in the act of recording and reflecting each day. A small break at the end of the day to reflect has made an huge difference for me, and it may do the same for you.


Why Productivity Practices Matter for All Christians

Jesus was the most productive person ever. That might sound obvious to some, or trivial to others, but I believe that truth is incredibly important to believers living in the modern world.

What do I mean when I say that? What’s my point? It’s simple really:

Jesus always did the right thing, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, always.

When we learn to do the right things, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way, we become more like Jesus. For the believer the end goal of improving our productivity is actually sanctification.

Of course, there are other results and purposes behind improving our productivity. I totally agree with Matt Perman when he asserts that our productivity is about doing all that we can, with all that we have, for the glory of God. Being more productive (in the sense that Jesus was productive), absolutely leads us to love our neighbors, families, churches, communities, and the world. It leads us to a greater impact for the kingdom of God. Being more productive is absolutely about glorifying God, as is all of life.

But, in the day-to-day mess—especially when it’s hard to be disciplined and organized—what drives me forward is this simple idea: becoming more productive means that I am becoming more like Jesus.