As I begin my second week of reading through Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott I am taking a look at the chapters “Shitty First Drafts” and “Perfectionism.” In the writing world, I’ve heard “Shitty First Drafts” referred to time and time again. This statement has become commonplace amongst writers, but really took off from the pages of Bird by Bird.
Warning! This post is extremely honest and raw. Proceed with caution!
Let’s be real for a moment. The first draft of anything is total and complete garbage. For the longest time I put off working on my own novel because I had the expectation that great novelists and authors naturally write well all the time. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. According to Lamott we write “shitty first drafts, good second drafts, and terrific third drafts.” After being through this process myself I must agree.
The first draft is all about getting your ideas on paper. You have plenty of time in consequent drafts to fine tune your writing, but the first draft should just be the place where you gather your thoughts and get your ideas hashed out.
Last winter I wrapped up my first draft of a book. I felt invincible as soon as I put the last period in its place. But those feelings of accomplishment were short lived. I went all the way back to the first chapter, and to my horror it was junk. I struggled with just deleting the entire manuscript I had spent two years writing. Luckily, I walked away from it that day. I let it simmer and a few days later I returned to it armed with a colored pen and a strong cup of coffee. For nine months I pushed through my second and third drafts. It was hard, but fun at the same time. And now that book has several query letters out to agents and may one day be a published book.
I found myself relating well to this entire chapter by Lamott. Somedays we have to push extra hard against the inner critic and remember that nothing we ever read was written well in its first draft. It takes us several attempts to make an articulate piece. Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.
Something I had to tackle early on in my writing was the major road block of perfection. Prior to starting this blog I only wrote for myself. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a writer. Ask my parents about the state of their basement and they may tell you that 3/4 of the boxes still housed there contain notebooks that I filled while growing up. I wrote stories of fiction and also about events in my real life. To crack an old journal open and begin to read would make me cringe because of it’s raw lack of perfection. But also sprinkled amongst the stories about Homecoming and crushes you may also find a rare gem.
As an adult I’ve continued to write. And when my blog became public in 2014 it was one of the scariest things I had ever done. The most horrific part of sharing my writing with the world was the knowledge that it would never be perfect. I was releasing my errors, my garbage and words into the world. Quickly I accepted that there would be haters. Some people out there would catch every single one of my typos and judge every honest thought I published. I’ve even had people message me with their own “critiques” of my blog.
Instead of letting the fears of imperfection paralyze me I decided to move forward. So much good has come about in my life as a result of making my writing public. I’ve been given multiple opportunities that a closet journaler would never have. I’ve connected with thousands of people I would have never met. I’ve had work published in magazines and also now a short poem published in a book. I’ve become an affiliate for Stitch Fix and get paid to share my love for fashion. And, because of the love and support so many have shown me I’ve finished a novel and am currently marketing my book to agents.
Perfectionism may seem like a strength to some, but I learned through my personal journey that perfectionism is actually just a facade for fear. Being afraid of making mistakes or sharing imperfect words is truly the definition of perfectionism. Writing has made me stronger as a person and has led me to a place where I could care less about rejection or judgment. I’m happy with who I am and I recognize that my writing is never perfect. But I let that weakness become my strength as I power forward just like Anne Lamott speaks about in this chapter.
The Ameri Brit Mom