Aug 5, 2010

Just Build the House Already! by Jonathan Williams

You have to build your own house in the Amazon Jungle. There are no contractors, building companies, or realtors. If you want a place to live, a leaf roof to protect you from the persistent rainfall or a hut floor to keep your sleeping mat out of the soggy mud, then your only option is to trek through the humid, thorny, rainforest, cut down a tree, secure some leaves, and then build a hut somewhere in the village.

Until you build the hut, you sleep on the ground.

For a writer, the first draft is like building a hut.

It is tempting, when writing, to edit along the way. It’s easy to methodically scrutinize every paragraph, dissecting the dialogue of each chapter. If you give into these temptations, however, you’ll never get the house built and you’ll end up sleeping with your face in the mud and your multiple unfinished manuscripts by your side. Too many writers begin projects they never finish, quite simply because they refuse to write until all of the wrinkles are ironed out and all of the questions are answered.

Imagine applying this approach to the task of building a house.

You don’t wait until you know how you’re going to decorate before building a house. It would be imprudent to put a groundbreaking on hold until the perfect couch for the living room could be selected or until you were able to beautifully coordinate the drapes with the rug. The decorations come later. That’s the purpose of subsequent drafts.

The second draft may finally solidify the conflict that pushes the protagonist into motion, while the third draft allows the author to polish the main character’s triumphal moment. These are merely decorations in the guest room, fine trimming around the crown molding.

When writing my first novel, Jungle Sunrise, I knew the destination, but the route was up for grabs. I knew the characters, but their development remained somewhat hidden. Would Jonah Frost discover faith or just hope? Would his love interest pan out or fizzle out? Should Jonah’s brother play a more vial role in Jonah’s self-discovery, or should Jonah tackle this journey as a loner? Rather than try to figure all of this out before typing, I disciplined myself to press forward and finish the story. I had to get the whole thing on paper, and then, once the house was built, my hut standing strong by the village river, I was able to walk from room to room, chapter to chapter, rearranging, organizing, decorating, and editing.

The first draft should be a freeing exercise in writing. There are no mistakes yet, because not everything is decided. Just get the posts in the ground, put up some walls, lay the floor, and erect the roof. Don’t fill street after street with unfinished homes as you sit and stare at the computer screen pondering which surround sound to install downstairs. Write the book. Finish the first draft. Just build the house already.


Jonathan Williams served as a missionary with the International Mission Board’s Xtreme Team in the jungles of Peru for two years. It was there, lying under a mosquito net in a hut in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, that Williams began to write his first novel, Jungle Sunrise.

Williams, 30, writes and lives in North Texas with his beautiful wife, Jessica, where he pastors Body Life church and serves as the Campus Pastor for Trinity Christian Academy as he pursues a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion and desire is to inspire readers with creativity and truth.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hosting Jonathan today. I hope your readers will stop by his website and learn more about him and Jungle Sunrise.