Monday, February 4, 2013

Shitty First Drafts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere." Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times.

Okay, that's just a nice way of saying I'm anal-retentive.  When I do something, it's go big or go home.  There are certain activities I won't even attempt- mini golf, pool, bowling- because I can't handle how badly I suck at them.

This carries into my writing as well.  When I was working on the first draft of my novel, hours upon workable hours would go by while I "fixed" what I'd written the previous day.  The funny thing is, once I got to the actual editing phase, none of those previous polish-ups mattered.  My completed first draft, while not total shit, came pretty close.  I had been working my head into a tizzy over individual words and sentences, when entire paragraphs, entire scenes, needed to be reworked.

That was my first valuable lesson: there's a reason everyone tells you not to edit while you're writing.  

Fortunately for me, there is a time and a place for perfectionism.  Once I finished my first draft, it needed work.  A lot of work.  More than I expected.  Thanks to some honest feedback and more than a few stiff drinks, I pinpointed where the problems were and fixed everything I could.  It was a task of herculean proportions, and my anal-retentive tendencies proved themselves incredibly useful.     

Now I'm nearing the end of this leg of my journey.  I'm pleased with my work, and I've grown through the process.  I've learned a lot about the craft of writing that will serve me well on my next novel.  There's still that pesky "time management" thing to deal with.  Working on that one.

But I think the biggest lesson I've learned is how to let go a little.  There came a point about halfway through my first draft, when I realized there were problems with it.  Significant problems.  It hit me that if I went back and tried to fix them before continuing on, I might never finish the book.  That's when my mindset switched from pseudo-editor to writer.  "Fuck it," I said.  "I'll fix it when I'm done."

I did.  And I finally have something I can be proud to put my name on.

Still, don't invite me to play mini-golf.


  1. One of the people I'm beta reading for asked me if her ms was so bad that she was in fact attempting to "polish a turd". Then she told me the whole saying 'you can't polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter' which is what it means to fuss with a first draft. BUT I will say that I often reread and sometimes do some editing on at least the previous chapter before launching myself into a new bout of writing. It helps me pick up the thread of the story and the tone.

    1. I do that too, but I have a tendency to take it a little too far...

      "Polishing a turd". Priceless mental image.


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