Shitty First Drafts


I wish.

I’ve become something I never thought I would be: a procrastinator.

My work-in-progress is open on my desktop, and I have time alone before I have to pick up the kids and be Mom for the rest of the day, and yet, I haven’t touched it. Instead, I set the dining room table for Easter brunch (which is five days away), exercised (twice), went to the grocery store (even though I went two days ago), balanced my checkbook (again), and made a couple of lists (like I need another one).

All useful activities, to be sure, but they didn’t have to be done today when I should have been writing. So maybe I should refine my opening statement: I’ve become a writer who procrastinates about writing (because clearly everything else is getting done.)

But why? It’s not for lack of time or motivation or desire. It’s not even for lack of ideas, because I’m pretty clear on where the story is going. I think it’s because I’m afraid it’s going to suck.

I mentioned this to my sister. “I don’t think I felt this way about my other books,” I said. “I’m not sure what’s wrong.” She laughed so hard her drink came out her nose.

“You’re kidding, right?”


“You say this every time. You say this many times every time.” (Which means, to her enormous credit, that she lets me.)

I checked with my best friend. “Yes,” she confirmed. “You do.” Then she reminded me about Anne Lamott’s excellent suggestion in her book BIRD BY BIRD. “Don’t worry about the final draft right now. Just write a shitty first draft.” Here’s what Anne says about it:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,’ you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

OK then. I can do that. I can write a shitty first draft. And then I can fix it. That’s going to be my new mantra: Shitty first draft, shitty first draft, shittyfirstdraft…

And now that I’ve finished everything else that needs to be done for the next several days, I’d better get started.