Let the Editing Begin: Fear, Courage, and Crappy First Drafts

I’m sharing my story about recovering from a life of performance and perfectionism. Get a sneak peek here! 

Laundry, friends, work, fear, sunshine, dirty dishes. There are a lot of reasons not to write. And they often come to the forefront of my mind when I sit down at my computer.

journal_coffeeMost of the time, the joy of writing wins out – fighting back all the other commitments with the promise of increased personal clarity and the possibility that someone might be encouraged by what I feel compelled to share.

Editing, however, does not carry that same joy. Editing is the process of cutting, stripping away, refining. Editing terrifies me.

Now that I’ve finished the first draft of my book, I feel so stuck. I know I should feel wish I felt more excited about that accomplishment. Instead, I’m scared of what’s ahead. I’m afraid that when I go back to what I wrote in June or July, I’ll think it’s complete crap.

I’m not trying to be overdramatic here. That’s just the truth of the writing and editing process. Anne Lamott – a personal hero who’s written several books on the process of writing – says we ought to be willing to write a “shitty first draft.” She’s right. If we’re not willing to write what might later turn out to be less-than-stellar, we’ll never write anything at all.

But here’s the thing that I have to keep reminding myself:

The editing process, while painful, holds the promise that even crappy first drafts can become something great.

Crappy First Drafts

That holds true for most things in life that are worth pursuing. Love, creativity, friendship, vocation, family. If we’re not willing to step in and mess up and take risks, then we’ll be left with a life of blank pages. And if we’re not willing to go through the painful process of being refined and stripping away the words or fears or baggage that are holding us back, then all we’ll have is that crappy first draft.

This weekend, my gentleman friend James and I were faced with the choice of stepping onto the page or holding back. We had to decide whether we were willing to make a deeper commitment to each other, knowing that by admitting how much we cared for each other, we were making ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of rejection.

At first, it looked like the walls of self-protection might be too high to scale. And they probably were – if it had all been left to us and our human nature. But, by God’s grace, he allowed us both the courage to name our fears – to admit that we were scared of being let go – and to acknowledge that neither of us knows how to do relationships perfectly well. That honesty created space for us to step into, to step toward each other. With our walls lowered, we could see face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, and say, “Yes, I want to do this. I want to be brave with you.”

We’re willing to take the risk, knowing that we will definitely mess up, and we have a lot to learn. But we believe the challenge is worth the reward on the other end.

Facing Fear

Every day we’re faced with choices about how we’ll respond in the face of fear. We can stare it down and say, “You’re not in control here.” We can step into the story that’s being written, even though we don’t know what the next page holds. Or, we can back away, self-protect, armor up, and leave the pages blank.

I don’t want a life of blank pages. I want to take risks, I want to write crappy first drafts, and I want to go through the painful but productive process of learning, being refined, growing, and being pruned.

When the excess is trimmed away – when we let go of the fears, the unnecessary pursuits, the anxious striving – it’s painful (absolutely), but it’s also essential to growing. To learning. To getting better at writing, loving, working, empathizing…all good things.

Even as I step into the joy of this relationship, I know the fear will creep back up and threaten to choke the words, to cloud my vision. It already has found its way into my thoughts and heart at times. But I don’t want to let it have control.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Fear is a real entity that we have to face, but it doesn’t have to become who we are.

God didn’t give me a spirit of fear. He didn’t give James a spirit of timidity. He hasn’t given you a spirit of fear or timidity either. Each one of us is still figuring out how to be in relationship with people, how to engage well with our work, how to rest and trust and be brave in the face of fear.

Stepping Into and Stepping Toward

Thankfully, we have a guide – a guide who went through all of those experiences and never sinned, never backed down out of fear. He felt the pressure and in response, he stepped into action. He stepped toward us in love.

He calls us into action too. And by His grace, He equips us with his Spirit. The same spirit that gave Jesus the power to face rejection, ridicule, and pain and yet respond with love. That’s the spirit I want to live into.

So, I’m choosing to act on what I’ve learned this weekend. I’m choosing to believe that God has given me power to do what he’s called me to – in relationships, at work, in writing. I’m choosing to believe that the God-given combination of power, love, and self-discipline is enough. I don’t get to just sit back and hope that things will work out and relationships will grow and my book will magically edit itself (see “self-discipline” above). And yet I also don’t need to drive myself into the ground trying to prove my worth (see “power” and “love”).

And yet, it is so easy to turn away from this gospel truth isn’t it? Even this morning, as I sat down to write, I found my thoughts pulled in a million directions. They were mostly the all-too-familiar thoughts of fear and anxiety and am-I-good-enough and I-can’t-do-this. I needed to re-plant myself in truth – in God’s spirit. And as I prayed and read, I was so convicted by Paul’s words to the church in Galatia.

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. (Galatians 1:6)

My fears and hang-ups were certainly troubling me. And I was quick to turn away from grace and peace and turn back to works and striving. That’s true anytime I look to praise and admiration for validation. I get caught back up in the cycle of “hustling for my self-worth,” as Brené Brown calls it. But when I look to God’s grace – to that spirit of power and love and self-discipline – then I have peace.

The Calling to Courage

It’s in that spirit that I want to step into the editing process. It’s easy to fear what people will think when I let myself and my stories be seen. Any writer who says otherwise is probably lying. We’re all so afraid that people won’t think we’re enough; that they’ll just view us as impostors – unworthy to say what we feel called to share

But there’s a kernel of truth I hang onto in that statement: I feel called.

When you feel called to something – something that checks out with Scripture, that brings peace to your spirit, and that maybe scares you just a bit – it’s probably something you should do.

It’s probably worth gathering up that power and love and sitting down to write that crappy first draft. It’s worth being courageous and stepping into that relationship. It’s worth editing and letting go and trimming the excess pursuits from our lives that are just there for fear of missing out. Grace and peace and growth – they’re all worth it.

That’s why I’m putting my words into action here. I’m practicing being brave – because it definitely takes practice. And as I step into the editing process, I’m praying that my heart would be right. Not seeking the approval of man, but being faithful to what God’s called me to do (Galatians 1:10).

Because when my heart’s not right – when it’s full of selfishness and fear and people-pleasing – I know it. The anxiety comes back, and I’m forced to rest before I can move forward. But when my heart is full of love – love for God, love for his story, love for the gift of sharing it with others – then I can step into the editing process less inhibited by my own hang-ups. I can engage more fully. I can submit myself to the process of being refined.

That’s why, starting tonight, the editing begins.

8 thoughts on “Let the Editing Begin: Fear, Courage, and Crappy First Drafts

  1. Laura, this meant so much to me today. I am in the beginning of this journey, and it helps to see that others have the same fears but are willing to obey His voice anyway, knowing He is worth it. Praying your editing process is fruitful.

    • I’m so glad this encouraged you, Jennifer! Writing and editing is such a vulnerable process. And as perfectionists, it can be downright paralyzing sometimes. But I’m grateful to have a community that supports me in this journey. And more than anything else, a God who directs me…and you! Thank goodness for that.

  2. True courage is knowing that God is there with you every step of the way. He put you there because he knows you can face it and conquer it.

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  5. I very much enjoyed reading what you wrote, as I struggle with many similar things. Thank you for being brave enough to share, and to “edit”. You did a wonderful job. Keep on writing, and I pray that God grants you the book deal, that you desire, in His perfect timing.

    • Mary Jo, thank you so much for your encouragement! I’m always grateful for when my words resonate with another courage-seeking, risk-taking creative 😊

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