Lap One

It’s not often that someone asks me why I write, but when they do, the answer is always simple: because I love it. The next obvious question is why I love it, and the answer to this is not so immediately clear – but why?! Writing a pretty personal thing; I’ve never really been asked to explain my motives or reasons, and in a way that makes me appreciate this assignment for shamelessly pointing its finger and asking me to somehow finally answer those questions.

 

The greatest obstacle I have run into so far has been choosing a creative framework for the assignment. I have some idea about what I want to say, but being the kind of perfectionist and eternally dissatisfied writer that I am, I’m never happy simply saying what I want to say without a substantial stab at something deeper. As it stands, my first draft for the “Why I Write” essay is a crazy Pollock-y blend of red, black, and blue fonts, with certain sections highlighted in bright green and others splattered with a series of question marks and exclamation points. Each color represents my relative attachment to what I’ve written: words in black font are there to stay, words in red font are important but need major revision, and I am just so-so about the blue words. The green-highlighted sections signal that I might need to find a different home for that specific group of ideas. It helps to visually organize myself and prioritize the writing this way, and it gives me several starting points when I’ve spent more than two or three hours staring at a computer screen and feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or where to go next.

 

Working through the challenge of potential frameworks is going to take a lot of time, particularly a lot of time spent in a really uncomfortable chair. It might sound ridiculous, but I’ve found that the only way I can truly focus on transferring my best thoughts onto paper is when I’m sitting somewhere really uncomfortable. The squishy red chairs at Starbucks might be great for enjoying an extra hot chocolate and a Chonga bagel, yet they don’t quite provide the most favorable conditions for cranking out thoughtful writing when your head is swirling with forty grams of sugar. When I find myself in sticky spots like this and really need to focus, I plop myself in a really hard chair (preferably in the Law Library) and/or somewhere with ridiculously bright lighting to minimize my chances of dozing off.

 

I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations, but I would venture to guess that a challenge common to all writers is overcoming their pride for their first drafts, something I think Anne Lamott strikes gold with in her piece “Shitty First Drafts.” I particularly love how she says that “all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” It really lifts a lot of pressure when you come to terms with the fact that any effort is a start, and you can save any judgments for later when “you fix it up…[and] try to say what you have to say more accurately” in that final lap. When I used to take notes in high school, I would be so obsessive about not having to cross anything out, not having to start a new line on a second page with two minutes left in the class, etc. But I was the only one who would be reading those notes, so what did it matter? I wasn’t being graded on aesthetics or even the contents of those notes; it took a very high dose of diligence to rid myself of that obsessive, proud habit of having perfect notes every single time, and I think I will have to apply the same Lamott-esque mindset to my first draft for this assignment: to be content with the fact that this is not the final draft, that it will get better, once it all gets out of my head.

 

What a relief.

3 thoughts to “Lap One”

  1. I really like the way you organize your draft with the different colors. That’s something I have never thought about doing, yet it’s a great idea and I might try that sometime. Often, organizing thoughts is one of the hardest parts about writing.

    I also completely relate to your first paragraph, because I’ve been asking myself that same question a lot: why do I love writing? Not only in preparation for this assignment, but throughout my years in school I’ve been asking myself this, but I’ve never taken the time to answer this question. So, as you pointed out, this assignment is a great way of forcing us to do so.

    I also like how you talk about “pride.” We all have some level of pride in what we do, especially our writing, and I agree that it takes a little work to get over the fact that the first draft will be rough.

  2. Allie,

    A few of the things you said here truly resonated with me.

    I like what you’ve said about being a perfectionist and how this has inhibited your ability to draft “freely.” I agree. It is sometimes difficult for us to let go and type. We have been taught from a young age to strive to do well on whatever we do. And this now controls our ability to just write a shitty first draft…I tried doing it last night and when I read it over again today, I laughed at myself. It was indeed shitty.

    Also, I too am having serious trouble with this assignment. I can’t quite wrap my head around the deep reasons I write. My suggestion to you is to “free-write” for a little while. Just think about writing and let your mind go free. Then re-read it, take out the nonsense, and write your essay about the ideas you were able to articulate well.

    Oh, and I find it humorous that I am sitting in a comfy chair in Starbucks as I respond to blog posts. I like these chairs.

    See you next week.

    Andrew

  3. “I’m never happy simply saying what I want to say without a substantial stab at something deeper.” I find myself nodding when I read this sentence. I suppose it’s only natural to want to write something that will show one’s depth of knowledge and skill. However, sometimes it may be easier to write without thinking too much about how our voice is coming out from the pages. (Easier said than done, I’ve learned.)

    You brought up an interesting point about how you stopped obsessing over the details by reminding yourself that no one else was going to read your notes for your classes. I think that looking at your draft the same way is definitely going to help ease the pressure a little bit. Moreover, even if no one reads the draft, you can still look back at it after working on it some more and look at the progress you’ve made. I think that it’s easy to feel frustrated when we’re drafting an essay, especially when we kind of know what we want to say yet we’re not seeing all that happening. But I suggest you look back at your old drafts for other essays (and maybe even any writing that you’d done some time ago) and see how much you have improved as a writer. This may be a way to get you to feel inspired to keep working on your current draft and maybe even pick up, from somewhere while reading, what really makes you like to write.

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