Last week I traveled from Los Angeles to Montana, and while I peered out the window watching the landscape change from state to state, I realized the journey was much like writing an essay.
When I begin a new essay, my mind is a jumble. Things are moving this way and that way. I head towards something, but I can easily exit. I have a destination, but in the beginning, I can’t even find the starting position. It’s the same with the Southern California freeway systems. They head toward every direction. There are on-ramps, off-ramps, slow downs, and accidents. When the freeway is finally moving, I feel as if you might make it to my destination.
As the traffic in my mind clears, I begin to see the road which is flat in the first draft, but it is moving forward and that’s what’s important. I drive through the barren desert but again, I’m still headed towards something. By the time I leave California my first draft is finished. I read it, and realize now I can shape it into something literary. This is the fun part. I’m now in Las Vegas, Nevada—it’s play time!
The second draft is where I do most of my editing. It is rough in the beginning and similar to the landscape of my next state, Arizona. There are rocky areas yet I can see their beauty unfold. I’ll change my verbs and make them more interesting. I’ll move paragraphs around and direct my readers to my main idea. And as I keep driving forward, I get closer and closer to my destination. At the end of the second draft I am ready to have someone look at it; a mentor, a colleague, or editor can now see what I can’t see.
When I leave the desert geography of Southern California, colors surface in Arizona, and Utah. New shades of red, orange, and pink give way. When writing, this is what I get from having my work viewed through another set of eyes; my eyes are now open to see new colors.
Idaho is where the life of the essay begins its labor towards birth. Idaho offers some of the most challenging landscapes in America: numerous mountain ranges, canyons, and forests. Here I climb. Here I make my way through the terrain and trees. When I come through in Montana, the essay is born. Montana means mountain in Spanish. I have climbed the mountain. The essay is complete. I have scaled its terrain. The essay is now ready to bear witness, after moving from state to state.
It’s a process, but the process is worth waiting for, so embrace it fully, it works.