The Gap at Watson’s Bay in Sydney, infamous for suicides. My own shitty first drafts tempted me to leap off The Gap into eternity many, many times
I’m currently working with a writing student we’ll call Bruno. He’s an amazing writer – very talented.
We’ve been working together for a couple of months. He’s fun, charming and enthusiastic, but getting material from him is a challenge. He assured me that he’s writing every day. What’s the hold up?
Finally I got him on Skype, and asked straight out – where’s your stuff?
“I’ve got to get it right first,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
“It’s supposed to be, Bruno,” I said gently. “That’s exactly what it’s supposed to be – shitty. Send it. We’ll fix it.”
Bruno hadn’t heard of shitty first drafts. It’s a term popularized by Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird.
Everything you write is shitty at first. That’s the definition of a first draft – complete and utter crap.
If it’s not shitty, you’re not trying
I’m currently getting back to my writing my own Kindle ebooks, after spending the last 18 months ghostwriting novels. (Some writers won’t ghost. They want their name on their books. I on the other hand, am a happy little ghost – I don’t care whose name’s on the book, I just love to write.)
When I started writing over 30 years ago, writing fiction taught me all about shitty first drafts. Everything I wrote was HORRIBLE. I had to resist the temptation to leap off The Gap at Watson’s Bay. Tempting as it was, it wasn’t an option. Too many people depended on me.
So I ignored the horror of my shitty first drafts and kept writing… And I discovered that no matter how horrible a piece of writing is, you can FIX IT.
Learning this took several years, and many needless bouts of depression. Finally, I woke up to this: everything you write can be fixed, and if your first drafts aren’t shitty, you’re not trying.
Expect crap. Be DELIGHTED to write crap. You wrote, didn’t you? You got words on the computer screen which weren’t there before, and that’s a huge achievement. It’s the first step.
Bruno’s become a wonderful student. He sends me his material regularly. Here’s the thing: his crap is pretty good. With a little tidying, some new approaches and some little tricks he’s learning, he’s planned, and has achieved his first $500 day.
Get productive: write shitty first drafts
Once you accept the horror of shitty first drafts, you’ll become productive. You’ll accept that what you wrote is what you wrote, and you can fix it tomorrow.
Shitty first drafts are the road to your own $500 days.