Messy Kids and Really Terrible First Drafts

If you’re like me, the thought of someone reading through your first draft, full of such tidbits as characters named New Guy or Mr. Lastname, notes in parentheses, and on one memorable occasion for me, a direction that said “(big ass fight scene here, blow lots of shit up)”, can leave you in a cold sweat. For me, it seems similar to letting your kid go to school bare-assed naked and covered in poo.

But you give them a bath, a good breakfast, dress them up, comb their hair and brush their teeth, and be damned if they don’t look cute as a monkey with a puppy. Those are the days we want our children (and our work) seen. But ask any parent, and they’ll tell you that children spend much more time looking like Dickensian street urchins. So you pick and choose which days to put the effort into; you send them looking their best for picture day, and the other days you just hope they keep their clothes on.

Writing is a very similar process, at least for me. For every bit of spit-and-polished, ready-to-go piece of work others see, there’s a whole lot of what can only be described as utter crap behind it.

In her excellent book, BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamotte tells us that terrible first drafts are a good thing.

“Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of
shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good
second drafts and terrific third drafts.”

In other words, don’t worry about the first draft, just get it done. You have permission to create a truly shitty first draft; no one else is going to see it. For me, the first draft can be the easiest; I just let my mind vomit in a semi-planned manner onto the paper. The second and third drafts are the “work” of writing, where I clean them up, tuck their shirt in, and comb their hair.

Once again, the brilliant Anne Lamont:

“If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,’ you let her. No one is going to see it.”

So let your kids–and your writing–be messy. Let ’em run naked through the house, screaming and throwing peanut butter. Just make sure they look their best for picture day, and chances are the rest of the world won’t know about the mess in the first place.

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One thought on “Messy Kids and Really Terrible First Drafts

  1. Pingback: Making Writing a Habit | Michael Chambers's Blog

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