In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott suggests beginning writers should quickly get their ideas rough and messy onto the page. In fact she advocates they should go as fast as they can to lay down a shitty first draft — her words — because it’s in the subsequent drafts that mud turns to clay then into pottery.
Or pigment turns to composition turns to art.
Or a few whistled notes become a riff become a song.
Hey Jude started as a line to John Lennon’s 5-year-old son Julian as Paul McCartney drove to see him following Lennon’s abrupt departure from the family for Yoko Ono — because the moment weighed heavily on McCartney and he thinks in song.
Hey Jules, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better, it began . . .
Other than Hemingway’s famous dictum — to stop writing each day before you’ve exhausted yourself, so the not-fully-fleshed idea sucks you into the text the next day — writing a down and dirty shitty first draft is the best advice I’ve heard.
But I’ve failed at it miserably.
I’ve tried. Many a time. I’ve tried to get it all on the page spitting fast and gritty, like the Joker applying makeup. But it hasn’t worked for me.
Turns out no matter how much I try to dash to the finish laying down jumbled thoughts along the way to be stitched together later, I revert to this process instead:
Wherever I am in the bookito I’m writing, I start each day several pages back and tweak and chisel my way to where I’ve left off — and this pulls me forward!
So I’ve re-written each page several to dozens of times by the time I get to the end of my first draft.
This week I nailed my first draft of It Is Solved By Walking. (Subtitle: How World-Class Creators Solve Life.)
It’s the first comprehensive draft. Which is what makes me think of Anne Lamott and her brilliant advice I can’t seem to follow.
Here’s the thing: There’s advice out there that works well for most people but won’t work for you. And even the people giving that advice will nod glowingly in your direction for doing it whatever way works for you.
As long as you find a way that works for you.
Note: I like to resurface older posts I think you’ll find useful or interesting, like this one.