On First Drafts

It’s been difficult to get words on the page lately. I’ve mostly been composing in my head, but for whatever reason, my thoughts, words, and sentences are accompanied by a nagging sense of fear and guilt. I did punch out two theatre reviews a few weeks ago. But I’m also working on a story that started months ago. Back then, I had so much passion for it. Words came out angry and excited. Some of my writing is very much driven by anger and the sense of injustice. So when I feel I’m falling short, guilt takes over and impedes the flow of thoughts. Suddenly, I can’t find words or structure. So I’ve been feeling stuck for a while, overwhelmed by guilt.

But a few weeks ago, I saw something on Instagram that made me feel more relieved and inspired me to write this post: Jamie Oliver posted a photo of some beautifully plated food and called it “first draft.”

I had never thought of recipes and the execution of recipes as first drafts, but of course every creation goes through its initial stages, its rough drafts.

As a theatre critic, I reserve the term “first draft” for poorly written plays that clearly need heavy editing and rewrites. I still don’t think people should pay to see something that is still in its initial stages. But I do think that keeping a record of a creative process is important. And social media platforms and blogs are a great space for sharing our drafts and chronicling the development of our work.

I’m not saying everyone should share their first or rough drafts with the world. As much as I’m a fan of writing workshops, I myself often find the initial stages of work to be too personal and very difficult to share. There is a poetry site called QuickMuse where poets are given a topic and must write a poem in a given amount of time. Their entire thought process—every letter, every deletion—can be viewed live online. I thought that it was such a cool idea. I also thought it was a nightmare come true.

This is not to say that published blog posts, ticketed performances, exhibited artworks, or cookbooks are never drafts. Many blogs have been turned into books. A show can morph and grow during its run. An art exhibition may spawn series, sometimes a lifetime’s worth, of exhibitions playing on the same theme that still nags at the artist’s curiosity or obsession.

A recipe in a cookbook becomes a first draft all over again when a cook tries it for the first time.

Now that I cook almost every day, I’ve come to realize how much cooking is like writing. Just like I can’t imagine never writing again, I can’t imagine never cooking again. Over time, both have become necessary and more natural to me. When you live in Bangkok, you actually don’t need to cook. Many residential spaces—new condo buildings especially—don’t come with kitchens. It’s very easy to live off street food, cheaper even. But it’s become more automatic to me now to cook when I’m hungry, to look for recipes online and figure out what to do with what I have in the fridge. I can’t imagine moving into a place without a kitchen. It’s one of the first questions I think of whenever the thought of moving into a new place crosses my mind: does it have a kitchen?

But like writing, cooking can feel like work. So in a way, the act of cooking when you’re not in the mood can feel like diving into the first draft or simply getting words down on paper without having a clear idea or direction.

Drafts are the start of our curiosity—a curiosity strong enough to merit an experiment or an active exploration—that sometimes evolves, sometimes dissolves. Drafts are also evidence of our desire for, sometimes obsession with, perfection.

And somehow we arrive at the final draft. Sometimes we have no choice but to stop and declare wherever we are as our destination. Sometimes we reach the point of satisfaction. Of course, one’s state of satisfaction with a completed work can be fleeting.

For this blog, I usually write 2–3 drafts on Microsoft Word. I then copy and paste the piece onto WordPress, where I spend another half hour or more editing it before publishing it. So far I’ve found that whenever I go back to my published posts with the intention to make some changes—adding a sentence or a paragraph—I end up not making any. That’s usually when I realize that it is satisfactory after all. But who knows for how much longer?

I may not have been writing as productively as I’d like. But in the kitchen, I’ve been busy playing with new ingredients and recipes. I suppose when you’re cooking just for yourself, there’s no pressure to arrive at the perfect final draft.