The First Draft: Separating the Wheat from the Tares

I’m in the throes of my first draft, and while February was a pretty terrible month for my word count, March looks like it is shaping up a little better. It’s spring and lovely, and I’m feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle some serious word counts.

But like many writers, I have a hard time holding back the critic in my head. It’s so easy to get distracted and spend the precious little writing time I have not writing — but instead revising, reworking, reordering, re-everythinging.

I’ve discovered an analogy that is (at least for now) helping me make some sense of this messy business of writing.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

To paraphrase the parable (which can be found in Matthew 13:24-30), a man sows a field of wheat, then his enemy comes to the field and sows a bunch of weeds (tares) in it. The field sprouts and the man’s servants see there are weeds growing. So they ask if they should go pull out the tares and get rid of them, to which the man answers:

“Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Now, this parable was meant as a metaphor for allowing the sinners to live alongside the righteous, or something. But! BUT!

Doesn’t it also make a super great metaphor for writing a first draft?

At some point we sit down and start sowing our wordseeds, working through a plot, adding to the wordcount. As the story starts to sprout, we might recognize some problems, see some elements that seemed like wholesome wheaty stalks at the start but have only turned out to be obnoxious weedy things. And we’re tempted to stop the whole process to rip those weeds out of the draft, to get rid of everything that isn’t COMPLETELY PERFECT, DAGGIT.

But what if in that process we pull out good elements with it? When we’re in the middle of a first draft, we don’t have the perspective to be able to neatly excise what’s bad without also sacrificing much of what’s great.

It’s not until the draft is done, has sat for a while, and is ready for revision that we can have the clarity to recognize what is good and what is not. And even then, it takes the help of countless other eyes and minds to take the words we’ve harvested and turn them into a digestible, delightful, nourishing and complete story-book-loaf.

But the revising can’t happen until the writing is done.

Letting the words get on the paper is difficult for me, because revising is the stage I love. It’s the part where I start feeling like, “Hey, maybe there’s something here that’s not completely embarrassing. Maybe I’d actually let someone else read this.”

So I’m going to let my little wordseeds grow and flourish. Some of them will have to be thrown out or burned. But I have to hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be some weedy little bit that will flourish into something wonderful and surprising.

Because I love surprises.

Do you find it easier to draft or revise? How do you overcome the inner critic when drafting?

3 thoughts on “The First Draft: Separating the Wheat from the Tares

  1. What a fabulous metaphor! You know me, I LOVE to edit! I’d much rather revise. Keep growing and sprouting! I can hardly wait to see what you harvest–it’s gonna be AWESOME! Love ya!

  2. This metaphor is spot-on. I think this is why I could never get through a solid first draft of anything until I participated in NaNoWriMo. I was weeding too soon!! However, with the NaNoWriMo challenge last year (November 2011), I had to KEEP WRITING just to ensure I would make it to the 50K word count by the end of the month, so I didn’t stop to edit – I kept writing and writing and writing. I let my story spill out and my characters take the reigns. It was a fantastic experience because I finished the story. It resulted in an an ugly, misshapen first draft that no one should ever read but me, but it is ready for HARVEST! I can get rid of the weeds and I can bundle my wheat together and work from there…

    • Nicole — That’s awesome! I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice, and haven’t gotten very far along. I’m still plugging along and trying to figure it all out. I’m glad this analogy works for you!

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