Experiencing the “Shitty First Drafts”

Experiencing the “Shitty First Drafts”


Some of the dribble that is stored away in a secret file on my computer of my first drafts would give my wife plenty of ammunition to have me committed if she ever had the inclination to do so. Am I ashamed or embarrassed by this fact? Absolutely! Much as Lamott describes her fear that if she were hit by a car and someone discovered some of what she had written they would believe that her “mind was shot”. Lamott tells about this type of work in her article “Shitty First Drafts”, which is about using three drafts to define and refine your written material and how important they are to the writing process, which I can absolutely relate to.

Lamott discusses the procedure of writing and of the multiple drafts which are created during the process. She speaks primarily of three drafts and how each affect the outcome. I am impressed by her stating that she is able to complete most of her works only using three drafts, I have found it requires four to five, sometimes even more. But I digress. As Lamott tells us, “the first being the most ridiculous” of the three but the most important because it is where the process begins. As her title indicates, these are the “Shitty First Drafts”. All of my first drafts are an embarrassment. I keep all of these dirty little secrets buried away and I will take them out on occasion, just to remind myself of who I really am. Disturbing to say the least. Thankfully we are not limited to a certain set of drafts. We can move on to our second and following drafts.

The saving grace, the second draft. If it weren’t for second drafts I can only imagine what we would think of one another. Speaking to each other, face to face gives us the opportunity to explain what we meant when we said that one thing that came off as offensive. “Oh, I am so sorry,” we may say, “I did not intend to come across that way.” Not that it always helps. We all can relate to this setting. If only I was able to write out everything I was to say to my wife, without her seeing it before I have completed the revision process, it would keep me out of a lot of hot water. Imagine if we never had the opportunity to clarify? What a disastrous state we would find ourselves in. Thankfully, as Lamott states, during your second draft you have the opportunity to revise, “go through it all with a colored pen,” and clear out all of the junk. This is where you can define what you intend to say and hopefully find some additional interesting bits to leave in. She says, “It always turned out fine, sometimes even funny and weird and helpful.” Must be nice to have her confidence. But most importantly you have the opportunity to edit your work  before anyone sees it and calls out the professionals to make the world a safer place with you tucked away someplace that is secure. Finally, the third and any additional drafts allow you the chance to refine and polish your writing before submission and casting it into stone.

The process of writing is just that, a process. If we learn from those who came before we won’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” We have guidelines that will help us through the ordeal. Some of us may come out the other side thankful to just make it through, others may find it to have been a joyous journey (this progression of writing) which we have found our calling. Some of us may get shipped off by our significant others because we didn’t put our special voices in a safe enough place. Whether you find yourself in the first camp, the latter, neither, or hugging yourself with a special jacket, I am sure we can all agree that Lamott is correct when she declares that “almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere”.


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