Memoir, Writing
Comment 1

The First Draft: Lessons learned (1)

Initial drafts are an adventure. That first gesture of catching an idea
and wrapping it in language is awe inspiring. Mystery draws us forward:
Why do I tremble at this memory? What will this character
say next? What do I really think about this subject? Writers bring
to the blank page an idea—some motivating spark—but we don’t
know its form, we don’t know half the content, we often don’t know
the real reason we’re writing. We certainly don’t yet know which
exact sentences will emerge. We come with an agenda but also, ideally,
an open heart and a willingness to be surprised.

Elizabeth Jarret Andrew in Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice

Before I plunge head-on to the revision stage,  I thought it would be good to look back and harvest the lessons I learned from creating the first draft.

Indeed it was an adventure and just like all adventures, there was a whole range of emotions that came up: In the beginning it was exciting; but a few months into the process, it felt so threatening; after a while, writing the first draft became a source of joy;  then confusion and loneliness set in so I sought the comfort of writing companions; later on writing the first draft became stressful and exhausting especially when the energies of the sad memories emerged…but most days  it felt comforting to experience the words bubbling up and flowing out of one’s being.

Whew! Now I am beginning to wonder what’s up ahead, what the revision process would be like…anyway let me count the lessons learned from the first leg of this writing adventure:

  • One must find a purpose for embarking on the writing journey

I felt the call to write a memoir many years ago, but the call remained unanswered because I could not find a good reason to undertake such a gargantuan task.

In my therapy sessions, I always remind my clients that a key principle in quantum physics is: energy follows intent. I always remember this and doing so allows me to be kind to myself. I know that when there is no strong intent within me to do anything, it would be useless to beat myself up because the energy I need to do the task would not be there.

But what does one do when the call persists? In a post written two years ago, I wrote about the things I did to go around the call to write a first draft. Aside from the active steps I took, I also made a deep, internal initiative – I lived the question, “Why should I write a memoir?” Living the question soon transformed the query into a koan, and in time the answer came to me: I know that I need to write a memoir because it is part and parcel of the spiritual journey that I had embarked on since I was young.   Embracing this purpose was what kept me going through the peaks and valleys of the first draft. It is also what prompted me to pick up where I left off and begin the next phase – revision and crafting.

When one finds the intent, all of life conspires to bring the energies and resources needed to feed the purpose. When I decided to write the first draft, the right teacher came along, as well as two books that helped unleash the memories which in turn caused the words to flow without effort.

Write Your Memoir, the soul work of telling your story by Dr. Allan G. Hunter, provided the necessary support I needed after the online memoir class. Memoirs of the Soul by Nan Merrick Phifer was my constant companion through the daily “memoir hour.” Nan Phifer’s book provided the exercises that helped unlock the memories.

The first draft was shelved for several months until the next teacher came along. Through her book, Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice, Elizabeth Jarret Andrew is helping me look at revision as another aspect of soul work.


The primary task of a rough draft is to discover what the story might say and why the writer might care. Without these elements—a story, a drive—nothing else can happen. 

– Elizabeth Jarret Andrew


Photo by David Klein on Unsplash




1 Comment

  1. So many nuggets here, Rosanna but I especially like this “…energy follows intent…” and then the additional “When one finds the intent, all of life conspires to bring the energies and resources needed to feed the purpose.” I’m still working on the intent part of this but after reading your post I’m not feeling so bad about not getting getting there yet. I know I have other work to do “inside my head” before the intent can be declared. Thanks for all the good book suggestions. More trips to the library and the bookstore.


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