Ranting and raving about “Shitty First Drafts”

That no-good, pesky first line.

^ I typed a combination of that sentence a whopping four times before settling on five words to start a blog post. And yet the struggle appears to have made my argument for itself: writing, and more specifically drafting, sucks. It sucks because the blank page before you is white, daring you to destroy it with poorly phrased sentences, muddying up the white with cold, black “ink.” It sucks because, for the better half of our lives, drafts have needed to resemble some ultimately perfect entity that is “the final.” It sucks because the first line aways sucks.

As I sit here flipping between my own first draft and “Shitty First Drafts,” considering the gamified nature of this class as well, I am hoping that a quick blog post will help to get the writers juices flow. Or I can just vent.

Anne Lamott writes: “I’d try to write a lead, but instead I’d write a couple of dreadful sentences, XX them out, try again, XX everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest like an x-ray apron. It’s over, I’d think, calmly. I’m not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I’m ruined. I’m through. I’m toast. Maybe, I’d think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not.”

My reaction? B!tch, you’re writing a food review from the comfort of your home. How about you try to come up with a lead when Andrew Copp ties the hockey game, sending the contest into overtime? Then try to write TWO leads, one for if Michigan wins in sudden death, and the other if it loses. OH and try not knowing very much about the game of hockey, much like I do.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Still, for all the reasons mentioned above that “Shitty First Drafts” holds a special place in my heart. I first encountered the essay in my English 125, a class that also allowed me to sort of let it fly in my writing. It was a fabulous first year writing experience, and one I hope to emulate this winter. In the piece, Lamott, like the Writing Gateway, gives us the authority to just write for the sake of writing, to fill that innocent looking page with words, however ugly they might look when it’s “finished.” She tells us to listen to the voices in our heads and to dump them onto that shitty first draft. The shitter the draft, the more willing we’ll be to commit to the editing process that looms. And for that, I am grateful.

The challenge of this essay, to me, is the editing process. My tendency (as someone who does not procrastinate) is to write as close to a final paper for the draft, to let it fester until the final draft due date, and to make the necessary grammar corrections at the end. Lamott says she writes sometimes twice the amount of words she needs to before going back to do a hack job, finding leads on page two and ending at a place somewhere before the ending of her first draft. Though it is a technique I have heard used by some of the world’s most successful writers, it is one that scares me. It seems a murderous act to hack away at words born from my very fingertips. I hope that I too will be able to write first, delete later, over the course of this semester.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

Oh, and I’ve never seen or read the Hunger Games.

One thought to “Ranting and raving about “Shitty First Drafts””

  1. Erin,

    Your post came across as really raw, particularly at the end. I really liked your sentence, “It seems a murderous act to hack away at words born from my very fingertips.” It’s definitely difficult to delete what you wrote. For me, I think of all the time that I spent carefully crafting sentences only to delete them all. It’s a hard task, but last semester my English 325 professor told me something particularly useful: writing isn’t effective.

    Isn’t that so true? Writing isn’t a math problem. You don’t immediately solve for x through a set strategy. Many times, english writers go into their “problems” not knowing what to do to get the right answer. Even crazier, a piece of writing’s final answer can sometimes be caused via inspiration from the wrong answer. In writing, sometimes to approach the right answer means spending time realizing what the wrong answer is.

    I think that we’re all in this class because we’re good writers, and being so, we probably could scrape by with our talent in previous classes. Now, however, the goal isn’t necessarily to get an A as we can all get As rather easily. The goal is to create the best work possible.

    And maybe that’s what will get you through this process: the knowledge that your revisions are allowing you to create your best work. Good luck in your writing endeavors this semester, and don’t forget that you’re in this class because you’re a writer. The odds are in your favor.

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