The Ugly Duckling

or, “The Shitty First Drafts” Post.

You’ve probably heard of the idea of Shitty First Drafts. If you’re anything like me, dear reader, you’ve probably written one. Or four. Or a lot. I dare say most writers know what it’s like to create these because they’re an inevitable part of the writing process.

The charming name for these first forays comes from Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. The selection about first drafts is fairly famous among writers of all kinds and is widely read by creative writing students the world over. If you’re interested in reading the short excerpt yourself, here it is hosted as a pdf:

My favorite bit from the piece is the phrase, “writing is not rapturous.” It is work and it is not always going to feel right or food or easy.

A friend of mine is having trouble with her first novel. Her initial passion for the project began to wane at around 30,000 words as difficulties piled up. Her plot became convoluted as she tried to fix character and story problems while she worked; rather than just finish the draft and then go back to change plot issues later, she kept trying to change things as she worked on the incomplete first draft, creating a more tangled mess as she went. Now she feels like she’s drowning in the project and is considering abandoning the manuscript altogether.

Anne Lamott tells us that in order to have a great book, we need to work through that Shitty First Draft. It’s just one step along the way. I wish I could convince my friend to see her manuscript through. I believe in her work even if she doesn’t right now.

So finish those first drafts! The sooner you finish them, the sooner they’ll be out of the way and then you’re one big step closer to the finished project you’ve been dreaming of.


Cleaning House


My husband and I are moving. Today. In fact, as you read this queued post, we are probably beginning to unload furniture from the truck and into our new place.

I’m excited. There’s a spare bedroom that’s going to become my office so I finally have a place of my own to work in private. The birds will get more space and sunshine and we gain lots of closets and my husband’s commute to work will be easier. Lots of perks to be had!

But the old apartment. Ah, the old place. How it haunts. Looms. Menaces. It is full of boxes and suitcases and dust and more than a few recently-discovered spiders in long-ignored storage areas. Eugh. As exciting as the new place is, we know we must deal with the state of the old one.  As we’ve been packing and organizing and throwing things out, my husband and I have both suffered from the Urge to Clean.

I want so badly to vacuum every corner. sweep up every dust bunny, mop every inch of flooring – but I’ve stopped myself. It sounds like a pretty stupid idea, not cleaning when the urge strikes, but it’s going to make sense in a moment, I promise.

Now, when I went to culinary school (I bet you didn’t know I’m a trained pastry chef, did you?), I was taught by my favorite Chef Instructor, “Clean as you go – that’s my motto” and in many aspects of life (cooking, especially), it has served me well. But I’ve discovered two places that this cheerful little rhyme is actually hurtful: writing and moving house.

When writing a first draft (we’ll talk about Shitty First Drafts in a blog post soon, don’t worry), the urge to edit and change and tweak and perfect as you go affects most of us. We dawdle over a passage or spend an hour re-working a bit of dialogue. Well, don’t. Just write. Get the damn thing over with and in the meantime – leave it alone!

In the same way that it will better serve my husband and I to first get everything out of the apartment and then come through and clean it, so too does it make more sense to finish an entire rough first draft of a story or novel and then come back through and edit it. Don’t make more work for yourself – write now, edit later. Trust me, those edits will still be there when you come back to them later.