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Bird By Turbo-Charged Bird

May 23, 2010

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who’s read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird dozens of times. One of her most memorable pieces of advice has to do with, as she succinctly labels them, “Shitty First Drafts.” Here’s some of what she has to say on the subject:

“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…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.”

Sounds great, right? Except that I happen to be nigh incapable of writing Shitty First Drafts. This is not to say that I sit down at my computer and release magic and rainbows from my fingertips, that in mere days I effortlessly produce prize-worthy prose. Quite the opposite, in fact. I edit as I go. I labor and scrutinize and delete and re-type and delete again. (And then maybe re-type again.) As frequently as I tell myself to just go with the first-draft flow — and as many mind games as I play with myself — I find it very hard to “just get it all down on paper.”

There has been one notable exception to this. A few summers ago, while rehearsing for a production of Les Mis, I sprained my ankle. I then proceeded to perform the entire run of said production on said sprained ankle, which was perhaps not the most medically advisable thing to do. (My devotion to Les Mis is unwavering.) I was told to stay off my feet for a week straight, at which point my mother dared me to do my own version of NaNoWriMo…in seven days. When you’re writing more than 7,000 words a day, it gets pretty tricky to stop and edit. It was an exhausting, exhilarating, wrist-cramping exercise in busting through those mental blocks and putting words on the page.

In an odd sort of echo, I currently have a torn tendon in my foot and two weeks off of work to recuperate. I love my WIP, and I don’t want it to get bogged down by my self-correcting and over-analyzing. At this point, I think I’d rather have a big mess of pages that need editing than a handful of them that don’t. So this time, I’m going to dare myself.

Two weeks. One Shitty First Draft.

Starting tomorrow, let the madness begin!

(Pssst, God? I realize I’m writing a book filled with characters who don’t believe in you, but if you felt inclined to help me out with this — like, on the down-low? In some super-secret way that neither of us would have to be embarrassed about? That’d be GREAT.)


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