We All Have Those Shitty First Drafts

Anne Lamott could not express my feelings towards rough drafts more perfectly in this excerpt from her book Bird by Bird.  It put my shame at ease and I did not feel so much discomfort after reading how a professional writer struggles just as much as I do.  Just Lmaott’s first sentence, “…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,” (189) depicts that everyone struggles, not just students.  Lamott emphasizes in order to get a final product, one has to struggle with the first draft, the second draft, and even the third draft.  She reiterates that there is nothing wrong with writing as much down as he/she wants because later, that is what makes up the final product-in a more condensed, put together form.  Most of the time I feel like I’m the only one who sits there with a prompt in front of me, maybe even something I got to choose to write about, and I just stare.  Keep on staring. And stare some more, at a blank paper that is definitely not going to write itself.

What I have come to find out is I always try to make my first draft the best draft there is.  There will be little to no revision or editing needed.  I always felt like that was the way I had to do it.  Growing up, teachers never told me I could “let this childlike part of [me] channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page” (190).  I always had to turn in my rough drafts no matter how many of them I wrote.  Because of that, I always wanted to sound like I knew what I was writing about.  I’d use big words, I’d make my sentences sound so intelligent that I would not even know what it said sometimes.  Reading through Shitty First Drafts honestly changes how I will write first drafts from now on.  I won’t sit there for an hour questioning if what I want to write down will sound good enough or whether I need to look up a word in a thesaurus so it looks better in the sentence.  I have to remind myself that this rough draft could be as shitty as I want it to be as long as I can use bits and pieces to make my second rough draft, or even third and turn it into a final piece.

From that third draft, comes the final piece.  The one we all stress about.  The one we all question whether its good enough or not.  The one we wonder what our teacher is going to think of it…etc.  Lamott however, expresses that if “[we] just get it all down on paper…there may be something great in those six crazy pages that [we] would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means” (190).  In those six crazy pages, unfolds a terrific final piece of work, one that I know I’m grateful I survived through.  Heck, this is a shitty first draft of its own even though I revised it over and over again because I know the whole class has to read it…but we are all in the same boat.  Reading what Lamott has to share about professionals who struggle with writing should make us all feel better and to know that it is okay to express yourself in writing any way you want during the drafts in order to get the best final product.

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21 thoughts on “We All Have Those Shitty First Drafts

  1. Overall I found your thoughts on this topic to be very relatable and quite enjoyable to read. When you quoted, “let this childlike part of [me] channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page,” I found that in my past that is what I have done to lead me to be able to just right endlessly. I believe that everything we do and aim for in our life revolves around what we’ve experienced as well as that childish personality within us all. I also found that your use of humanizing professional writers, such as Anne Lamott, was about as powerful and well incorporated as it gets. Even Anne Lamott had to start from somewhere, with the same blank page, and the same questions. The only difference between her and us is time and experience. I find the quote, “A ship is safe at harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for,” to come in handy with this topic as well as your point of view. I remember when I first learned to ride a bike I sat there with the same blank stare you described when talking about beginning a paper.. I consider the teacher to be the guiding hands behind us, those trees and bushes that somehow jump in front of us to be mental blocks, and the breaks to be the end of yet another rough draft. We have to write like we would ride a bike; take the first step and learn how to go farther from our mistakes. As you can see my interest in your thoughts provoked me to ramble. This is the way I always write when I enjoy what I read and can relate to the passage with depth such you have provided. Very well done.

  2. I agree with you. Anne Lamott definitely makes me feel better about my self when she says famous authors struggle with first drafts. But lets be honest, if an author like J.K. Rowling has a shitty first draft, them I must have made super shitty first drafts. I also have felt like my first draft has to be perfect. I never really took editing of the first draft serious at all because i’ve always thought that was the best work I could turn in. So basically when I turned in my final paper, it would look exactly like the first three drafts or however many drafts we did. Hardly ever got the “A” I was always expecting.

  3. I agree, I also find myself staring when given prompts. Many of times I have ripped my first drafts up but had to tape them back together due to the fact there is a couple of pieces of information I want to include in my final piece. Many of my final products ever resembled even the slightest bit of my drafts I did. My drafts were all “shitty” but reading those always made me edit my final and reread it so I knew it wasn’t horrible like the draft which ideas just flow for.

  4. I completely agree with everything you have said. I have been in that place where I am just staring at the paper not even knowing where to begin. I have done that with not only prompts but with a topic that I personally chose! I struggle internally with the same problem you do of trying to impress the teacher by using big words sometimes making it so that I don’t even understand my own words! I found myself numerous times flipping through the page of a thesaurus searching for better words to expand my vocabulary and make it sound more intelligent. I have to remember in the future that even professional writers struggle sometimes and have those shitty first drafts. That makes me feel much more comfortable knowing that I’m not the only that struggles.

  5. I could not feel more relaxed about writing after read Lamott’s article on first drafts. It also makes me feel much better that I am not the only one out there in the world that feels like writing can be a difficult thing at time especially when you are trying to create perfection. I think it’s funny that at times where I attempt to create something beautiful and the first draft ends up being so choppy and irregular that it is almost awkward that is how bad it is.

    Another thing I noticed about both your blog and Lamott’s article is that they are written in a “laid back” manner. I think that this topic is interesting because it makes us feel that we don’t have to be perfect, and that these blogs are exactly the things that allow us to write down our thoughts on a particular article without feeling the shame of a crappy first draft. There is nothing more discouraging than seeing all of the editing marks that our high school english teachers made on a first draft that we thought was pretty good.

    Writing can be a difficult thing; especially when you have to write on topic that we may know nothing about. I appreciate the blogging very much because I feel as if it gives us a sense of confidence and can open another door to our minds and allow us to locate the creative spark and apply it into our writing. I am glad that I am not the only one who struggles with this same issue, and I couldn’t agree more with your post and Anne Lamott’s article.

    1. Your comments on the laid back, informal approach to blogging show the need for opportunities t write someone other than the formal school essay. Sometimes I think we do a disservice to students by only working in one genre.

  6. I agree with what you said.I like how you related some well known others to us, showing that besides obvious lack of skill in certain areas we are all humans writing about some topic for some reason. We all do try to make the very first draft the best draft possible but actually it is usually the worst out of the three drafts. With my writing the drafts, I put my main thoughts and ideas in the first, edit and at more pertinent information in the second, finally in the third I look for all grammatical and just general.

  7. I feel the same way as you stated about how even a great write struggles with their first draft just like we do. The first draft is a mess of all our ideas and there is now way, that piece of work would be ready to head to the publishers. when Lamott talks about how she just writes, and writes, it helps get all the ideas out that you, the author, are trying to express. Through that second and third draft it allows the author to compile and organize their thoughts, allowing them to portray their views to the audience. And I agree that it takes a horrible draft to help create that final paper, the one that “we all stress about.” No one or not many people are able to simply write an amazing piece of literature without going through an editing process. And I agree with the idea that through all the rough drafts we create, it helps us to know that when we edit, that the paper can only get better and we aren’t alone in this crazy process of writing.

  8. I agree that a lot of authors have terrible first drafts. One of the things that kept creeping back into my mind when reading this blog was the fact that when we first started writing we were timed. We were given a prompt and were expected to plan, construct, and write an essay within 30 minutes. This is what gave writing a bad name for me. I always thought I was a terrible writer because I would look over and the person next to me would have the essay started while I had a blank page. The first drafts that are being talked about aren’t the kind I was talking about, but it related. I have always hated first drafts, but now I have a different view on them because they don’t have to be perfect.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with the author, Anne Lamott, and what you have just written. Just like you, I have always been the type of person to make my first draft be perfect. I wanted it to be so good that people wouldn’t know of any corrections to make to it because it was just that perfect. Reading this excerpt has made me look at first drafts in a different way. It has never crossed my mind to just write down anything and everything that I’m thinking and make it as horrible as I want it to be. A first draft doesn’t ever have to be seen if you don’t want it to be and that’s the part that I never really thought about. And I also like the part where she said “There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six…that you know now what you’re supposed to be writing about,” (190). One minuscule saying or sentence might be all you need to begin writing the greatest paper of all time. But you won’t get there without the shitty first draft.

  10. I agree with you, and I can totally relate to how you feel when it comes to writing a first draft. Throughout school, we have always been required to write a first draft and turn it in for a grade. However, how are we supposed to really express ourselves and get our thoughts down on paper if our work is going to be criticized for a grade? And when it comes to writing first drafts, I, also, aim for an excellent first draft that will not require too much editing later. But like you, I always find myself stuck as to where to start and I always feel like I’m the only one to feel that way. It was reassuring to read Anne Lamott’ss excerpt from Bird by Bird and learn that even professionals struggle at starting their first draft. I really like how Lamott states, “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.” The last sentence in that quote really stands out to me. “No one is going to see it.” I really admire that Lamott emphasizes the importance of expressing all of your thoughts and ideas on paper, and she ties it all up by stating that no one is going to see it. You can write whatever you want, and no one is going to judge you. After reading this, I wish that I never had to submit a first draft with the fear that someone was going to read it and criticize it. In fact, it might have made me enjoy writing a lot more if I knew that I could write whatever I wanted to write with a sure thought that it would lead me to a terrific final draft.

  11. The fact that we all have to start at the bottom and work our way up to a great piece is the great equalizer in writing. I feel that that is one of the most important things we have to remember to keep everyone, no matter how easily it comes, writing. i love that you make that point very clear.

  12. I completely agree with the things Anne Lamont said along with the things you pointed out. It comes as a relief to us amateur writers that even established authors have mediocre and bad first drafts. I too am one of those people that like to have a perfect first draft and use it as my final so that others will not have to critique me and judge my writing. This work makes me feel much better about my rough drafts and first copies. I realize that I can write much more freely and let things flow rather than trying to make everything perfect on my first try. This can help me write much better papers and incorporate other things that I may leave out trying to make my first try my only try.

  13. Reading this blog about terrible first drafts makes writing a lot easier for me. I used to stress about writing a perfect first draft because I could touch it up and make it even better than the first one. I would spend hours and hours trying to find the perfect words or phrases to fit into the first draft. What I realized after reading this is that the first draft is supposed to be bad. It allows you to go into your second draft with a base already laid out. A bad first draft only can only lead to a better second draft. I would rather write a terrible first draft and then a really good second draft than a good first draft and a second draft that is only a little bit better. Writing is all about progress. If you make good progress, you make good writing.

  14. I found your blog post to be very relatable. Just like you said, it made me feel better knowing that professional writers struggle just as much as I do. I am a lot like Lammott. I will procrastinate and take breaks like crazy when I have a writing assignment. Her article and your blog post put me at ease, knowing I am not the only one who does this.

    I am exactly like you. I have always felt that my first draft has to be my one and only draft. I spend hours erasing, crossing out and re-wording my entire one and only draft. I am a perfectionist so I make sure to get every little detail. This article has also changed how I will write my first drafts from now on. I no longer feel like I have to have just one perfect first draft. Next time I have a writing assignment I will write two, probably even three drafts. Writing more than one draft will help get all of my thoughts out.Then I can go back and put together the ones that will really work. I think it will change the way I write, and even help me become a better writer.

  15. I agree with everything that you and Anne Lamott have said about first drafts. You both have written something that is so relatable to every student who has ever written a first draft. First drafts are not meant to be even close to perfect. They are to get all of your thoughts down on paper in order to analyze them and decide which thoughts are suitable to go into the next draft. I have always tried to make my first draft as perfect as it could be. But that is not the right strategy because I could be missing out on ideas that could potentially make my next drafts even better

  16. It is great to see so many of you finding relief in Lamott’s call to write shitty first drafts. The way I see it, you will write a shitty first draft no matter what so it is better to embrace the experience and be creative.

  17. I couldn’t agree with you more. Before I read “Shitty First Drafts,” I thought I was one out of only a few people who didn’t write and awe inspiring first draft. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what to write, right when they needed it. It sometimes takes me a solid hour to write my first paragraph. But if I let my thoughts run free and just keep typing until I run out of ideas, I almost always come up with something good. It was also really nice to learn that even professional writers have those shitty first drafts. It definitely makes me feel better about writing mine out.

    1. I agree with you and Lamont and i enjoyed how you used your own experiences with shitty first drafts and how the article impacted how your going to write from now on. Reading this blog was funny because I could relate to your struggles and headaches. I used to stare at my prompt while my peers brilliantly responded to the topic as if they knew exactly what to say. But overall after reading this article I’ve realized that “No one is going to see it” and that i should allow myself to let out everything onto paper.

  18. Lamott”s “Shitty Firsts Drafts” has probably been one of the biggest eye openers to me in a long time. I always am given a prompt and think that my first draft has to be my best draft. But most of us think this because in high school we had writing tests and we only had one shot at getting our point across clearly and intelligently. This in turn transferred to our work at home making us think that we can just write one draft and think it is fine to turn in, but in reality it takes time to get a paper the way we want it to be. I never realized that I should be writing all of my thoughts in my first draft and then take out what I want in my final draft. So this excerpt from Lamott has been an eye opener to me and probably will help my writing improve greatly.

  19. Ah the honest comments flowing from this blog are so great! I too, along with everybody else it seems, struggle with shitty first drafts.I’m a perfectionist at heart so I rewrite, and rethink, and retype the same sentence over and over again which makes writing 3 page papers take hours upon hours. Its tedious, overwhelming and often times I procrastinate on it as much as possible. But I love how after all of us have read the excerpt and this blog, we can all accept the fact that shitty first drafts are okay. In fact its good to have shitty first drafts. I don’t know about any of you guys, but that makes me so free to know that when we start writing papers in this class, I don’t have to feel judged for my shitty first draft. I’ll assume that’s why we all try to make the first draft perfect because we know the dreaded “peer editing” comes next and the whole time we’re freaking out inside as someone reads our shitty first draft. Maybe now that we can all relax, as we begin writing our papers, we really can “let this childlike part of [me] channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page” and forget the perfect spelling, grammar, and word choice and just develop our own voice through our writing.

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