Challenge Journal- How do you Sort Through the Mess?

With the exception of this capstone course, every single English class I have taken at the University of Michigan has started with the same reading assignment: “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott. The first time I read it was in English 125. While I didn’t understand its purpose from the beginning, I eventually grew to see the necessity of being able to just write.

I didn’t have to have a defined beginning, middle, and end to put pen to paper. In fact, writing could begin with a mere fragment of an idea and — eventually — blossom into something much bigger. Within this context, this piece served its purpose. At the end of my first semester, I was no longer afraid to dive into this seemingly scary and undefined task.

Who’s to say if my current state of fearlessness is developed after analyzing this piece on five different occasions or not. What I do know, however, is that my newfound bravery has inflicted a different, more pertinent limitation on my writing process.

I don’t know what to write.

It’s not that my brain is sleepy or my creativity is lagging but, instead, I have too many ideas.

When I sit down to write, I can’t even decide which words to haphazardly throw into my shitty first draft because there are just too many. Do I write about the role that food and cooking have in my life? Should I delve into my relationship with my mother? Would anyone be interested in reading about my experience playing the carillon? Probably not.

I wish I could find a way to sort all of these tidbits and potential project ideas. I need a way to put it all on the page and know which ones I am interested in the most. What are some qualities of a good project? What do I avoid? How do you sort through the mess?

5 thoughts to “Challenge Journal- How do you Sort Through the Mess?”

  1. Hi Sam, the problem that you often encounter is also one of the most frustrating things that I deal with too. But it’s a good problem to have and, hopefully, the fact that it’s not uncommon can actually make it seem less stressful. Last year, my English 325 teacher told me for one of my open-prompt essays that anything can be interesting. Anything. I just looked up what a carillon was because I had never heard of it before and I will say that I would definitely be interested to learn about that.

    For your case, that means taking the fearlessness (that you already have) of writing a shitty first draft and doing it without looking back on one of the first ideas you think of. Then, if you are stressed or displeased with your writing, you can ask yourself: Is it because of the writing or the topic? That can only be answered after something gets put to paper.

    1. I can now see why Julie had us reply to all of our table’s posts, each post I have read thus far is extremely relatable. I have the same problem with having too many ideas and not know which to chose, and I gather that Ethan does as well. It is difficult to discern what people would find interesting, but it is true that everything is interesting and sometimes the things people would view as more interesting from an outsider standpoint, say skydiving for example, would be less interesting to write about than, say, sitting on a bench for 5 minutes between classes. This might not be helpful, but I agree with Ethan about just getting something on paper and then deciding from there. You don’t have to be married to one idea, but instead you can have a few on the back burner in case your original idea doesn’t pan out well. I have a feeling this carillon idea might be very rewarding and interesting though, I am excited to hear more about it.

  2. Sam, I think I’ve pretty much got the “Shitty First Drafts document memorized verbatim at this point. But you’re definitely right in that it probably does hold more importance than we all probably initially recognized, and the point is good — that anything is good, as long as it can get you writing.

    I think the qualities of a good project depend on what you like — whatever it is you are most passionate about and feel like you could write the most about. That’s what will make your project good, regardless of whether that’s about the carillon (which, for the record, I am sure we are all very interested to hear about) or your relationship with your mother.

    Maybe narrowing down the scope of everything on your plate and trying to pick the topic that is most important to you will help? That probably seems obvious, but if you’re fearless enough to write anything, I think the thing you care about most will help you make the perfect project.

  3. I have the same problem as you in that I have so many ideas and things I could write about that I can’t decide which would be most interesting to an outside audience or even if others would really care to hear about my interests or experiences. I think my proposed routine of doing my writing in the morning before my brain completely wakes up and I am distracted by the occurrences of my day could help with this. Another thing that might help is writing down all ideas and then making a list of how each thing affected you and writing about the one that you could put the most detail in. I question whether there is really a person out there who doesn’t have multiple ideas and is unable to decide what to write about because of the amount of different things that happen on a daily basis.

  4. Hi Sam,

    I feel like this often when I write too! When writing, You can’t be afraid to take risks and simply just go with it. Paralleling this, you should be cognizant that writing is kind of like asking questions- there are no bad questions. Putting pen to paper in any sense could spur a new train of thought or action; I typically draft and re-draft at least four times, my first draft being a series of bullet points and stray sentences. Even if you initially write out multiple ideas that are independently unique, you may find a way to string them together through drafting.

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