The Tao of the three drafts

writing is creation.
writing is change.
writing is clarity.

These three principles from the Tao of Writing illustrate why writing is difficult: because it requires the writer to switch between different mindsets – one for each of the principles. The three principles and three mindsets correspond to the three drafts of writing.

The first draft is about creation: capturing ideas in a free-flowing stream-of-conciousness manner. For this the writer needs an open flexible space which allows him or her to focus on the creation and the flow of ideas without censorship or critique.

The second draft is about change. The word “revise” comes from the Latin roots “re”, again and “visere”, to see: literally to see again. This is a difficult because in this process, the writer needs to take what he or she has written and is attached to and destroy it. In The Tao of Writing, Wahlstrom tells us:

Beginning writers seem to believe that great writing emerges full formed from the author’s pen. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Great writing is created in revision–rethinking, rewriting, adding, subtracting, repositioning, editing. In effect, fine writing is born in change. (p. 77)

The second draft is where material is added dropped and re-arranged. What makes this process so painful is to create one must attach but to change, one must detach.

Finally, the third draft is about clarity. The writing process is in many ways the art of thinking. Clarity can only emerge from the ash of something which has been created, destroyed and then reborn. Mastery at this stage comes just as much as from the words  which are cut as those which aren’t.

Recognizing these three fundamentally different mindsets helps a writer to identify what he or she needs at each stage of the process. We spend a lot of time in macademic talking about the tools for planning, writing and processing scholarly material. Because one of the best ways to teach a craft is to teach the tools which are need for that craft. Just as a beginning art student learns about the different types of brushes which exist and how they can be used, we believe writers can benefit from learning about the different types of software and how they organize and focus the mind.

About Jessica Jewell

Jessica Jewell is an Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a Professor at University of Bergen where she researches the feasibility of climate action (
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3 Responses to The Tao of the three drafts

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