As it stands currently, I have 29 draft articles on Medium, most of which exist only as mere headlines with (if I’m lucky) some decent notes or research studies included by my former, and notably more optimistic, self.
In all honestly, I have absolutely no idea if this number is excessive, impressive, low, or completely and utterly ridiculous in comparison to other writers on Medium. I mean, how many drafts do you guys have? Tell me, please. I would very much like to know.
What I can say for a fact, however, is that I have no plans whatsoever to cut down on this number. In fact, I often actively try to augment my library of half-baked ideas, in the hopes of one day finding the motivation — or, rather, the inspiration — to fire up the oven and get to fully-baking.
As a writer, I am highly in favour of keeping the incomplete articulation of my ideas.
A few weeks ago I was reading an article where the author suggested it was downright near mandatory for creators on Medium to become cut-throat in their criterion for allowing these shameful scraps of writing to remain in their collection.
They presented the case for the ‘out with the old, and in with the new’ mentality, the idea that by keeping a backlog of unpublished work, one would be leaving no room for the mental contemplation — and key word: completion — of anything better.
I enjoyed reading the argument in favour of a good ol’ clear-out of copy, but I recall closing out of the article and not being particularly inclined to follow the prescription for myself.
You see, my 29 drafts are not failed articles. All my failed articles are ones I managed to finish; they’re the ones I believed in enough to hit publish.
My failed articles are failed because my expectation and anticipation for their success was wholly unmet. But even then, I could argue that someone, somewhere probably got something out of one of them, so take my use of the word ‘failed’ here with a grain of salt.
The point being that my 29 drafts do not exist as the result of failed efforts, they exist because they need many, many more efforts.
I have goals for each of these drafts — even the body-less headline, subtitle ones — and in truth, they’re largely going to remain this way until I have conjured up enough courage to attempt to see them fly.
Statistically speaking, some of my most successful and far-reaching stories were ones that sat, empty and neglected, for weeks on end before I was again prepared to pick up the pencil.
What’s more, is that I often don’t feel like working on the specific article I have marked in my calendar to be worked on. Part of the beauty of being one’s own boss is getting the freedom to say “I don’t want to” and not getting yourself fired for it.
So I don’t always follow the plan.
Instead — you guessed it — I’ll give a little browse to my half-bakery of ideas and inspiration and see what seems like the most interesting for me to think about that day.
Unlike conference calls and coffee breaks, creativity can not be scheduled.
I know almost every writer can relate, that when I feel motivated about a particular subject, I can write for 5 hours without stopping and feel as though it’s only been 50.
Alternatively, force me to write about something I’m not in the mood for (no matter how much it might otherwise align with my usual interests), and a single hour will pass with the same speed as a growing toenail — not to mention that an hour of unmotivated work is always and inevitably less productive than an hour of curious work.
By giving myself options, I don’t allow myself to accept ‘I don’t feel like writing’ as a valid excuse. It’s like when all the parenting books tell you not to ask what the kid wants for dinner, but to ask them whether they want peas with their tofurkey or corn.
I admit that having 29 different options to choose from can a little more distracting than being asked to make a choice between peas and corn.
But with that said, my articles naturally tend to follow a few core themes, and by narrowing down what type of writing I’m in the mood for, I can pretty quickly decide between 2 or 3 primary candidates, and rather immediately get to work.
The importance of providing myself with a choice is nothing more than a useful mind trick that makes me far more inclined to obey my own intentions than had I beat myself over the head with a stick instead.
So before you go mass-deleting all of your unpolished ideas in the name of organization and ‘clarity’, think of the drafts section as a writer’s most precious possession.
Sometimes an idea needs to be left alone in a dark place for a couple weeks before it can grow into its full potential.
Sometimes we need to honour our creative process and the messiness of half-baked and half-finished.
Sometimes the best work comes from the worst draft.
Keep the draft.
Alexandra Walker-Jones — February 2021