Sh*tty First Drafts are Real

written by Mikaela L. Cowles on September 23, 2014 in Editing with no comments

Shitty First Drafts

It just doesn’t happen.

“Shitty first drafts” are real. I pity the fool who thinks otherwise. You’re the uninitiated sucker. Lord help you.

Writers, the ones who make a living arranging words, know that the first draft is like ice cream custard on the stove. You can put all the right ingredients in the pot, but if you don’t take the time to give that sweet concoction the right TLC it might as well get poured down the drain.

The term “shitty first drafts” was coined by author Anne Lamott. In her book on writing, Birds by Birds, she says:

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do — you can either type, or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Gulp. Go ahead. Do it. Recognize and accept that you are forever relegated to editing.

Stop burying your head in the sand. Pull on the big girl panties. Let’s talk about how to get this done.

Write. Start by just letting yourself say whatever it is you want. Let the motor mouth child spew forth, unbridled. Let her (or him) be as racy, edgy, and un-politically correct as they want. Just let her rip.

Then, and this is the kicker ladies and gents, press save, get up, and walk away.

Whether we’re talking about an email, novel chapter or company announcement – give yourself some space. If you can help it, don’t even think about what you wrote.

Go play pickup basketball. Take a shower. Have a sandwich. Call your mom and discuss what’s growing in the garden. I don’t care what you do, just don’t look or touch your piece for at least five minutes. (If you can leave it for a day or even a week, you’re doing even better.)

This time away gives you perspective. It lets you comeback with fresh eyes. Why? The reason is two-fold:

1 – It gives your heart a moment to stop pounding. It lets you ask yourself, “Did my writing child just go a little too far here or there?”

2 – It allows you to see your piece with fresh eyes. While it’s darn near impossible to catch every mistake in a piece you’ve written, a little time away helps a lot. You know that there’s supposed to be a “the” before banana and so you’ll often see it – whether it’s there or not. You’re more likely to catch hiccups such as this if you’ve stepped away.

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