Saturday, February 23, 2013

$#!&-y First Drafts

My beautiful friend Kara, who happens to be one of the world's best givers of gifts, sent me books for my birthday.  I recently finished the last one, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by author Anne Lamott.  I highly recommend it even if you don’t write.  I have no plans to write a book, but I have been trying to incorporate some of her instructions into my writing here.  Presently, I've been focusing on the chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts.”  Ms. Lamott offers some amusing narrative on how she views these terrible first drafts, but also offers this bit of wisdom:
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts…. Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.  You need to start somewhere.  Start by getting something – anything – down on paper.  A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down.  The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up.  You try to say what you have to say more accurately.  And the third draft is the dental draft where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.
After considering this, I realized I need to break a bad habit I picked up when I was in college.  Between working two part-time jobs, taking a heavy course load, serving in student government, and trying to fit in a bit of a social life, there wasn't much time left to set aside for all of my writing assignments (Political Science major + English minor = a ridiculous number of papers).  I would try to do the reading and research in advance, but I rarely started writing a paper until the night before it was due.  At that point, I would write until the wee hours, review the paper, sleep an hour or two, glance over it one more time to correct any glaring errors, and turn it in.

Although I managed to do pretty well with this routine, it certainly was not ideal.  I realize now that never developing any kind of true editing and revision process back then has bled over into my current writing.  Until the past week or so, I used to write and post most of my work in the same day, without putting in much time for real scrutiny.  I went back and read some of my older posts and realized the ones I’m most proud of are those I worked on for several days before I posted them.  There are a lot of filler or ranting posts in between the better ones which are, quite frankly, just shitty first drafts masquerading as actual blog posts.

I’m trying now to focus on spending more time in the editing process so that I post less first-draft work.  I've found that taking a break from a draft for a day or so and revisiting it later makes errors more obvious to me; I also find I’m much more willing to delete sentences or entire paragraphs once I've distanced myself from them a bit.  When I used to write/review/publish all in one sitting, I felt more attached to what I’d just typed and ended up leaving in a lot of superfluous writing.

My writing may or may not be improving, but I feel like I've produced some better-edited posts, which is a pretty big deal for me.  I am extremely critical of my own work and almost always have a twinge of panic as soon as I click "Publish," wondering if I really should have shared whatever I posted.  Being more intentional with my editing has helped me feel a little more confident in my work, which is not an insignificant thing for me.

In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”  That pretty accurately sums up the entire reason I write this blog.  Improving my writing will help improve my understanding of what I think and believe, so I should absolutely put in the effort to be intentional about it.  Better editing and more clarity may also be a welcome change to the few people who read what I write.

Of course, I've spent several days editing the heck out of this post, but there are probably still superfluous words and flow issues and errors.  I'm okay with that.  I'm not trying to be perfect, just better.

PS.  Thank you again for the book, Kara!  I loved it as much as you said I would.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad you liked it. I knew you would, though. There wasn't a doubt in my mind. :-D