“Write shitty first drafts.”
This great wisdom comes from Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, a writing book where she takes us readers inside her head and we get to see how similar her inner committee’s rants and raves are compared to ours.
No one’s over my shoulder. At least not in the flesh.
But my would-be audience lives in my head and comments through my writing session like a Howard Cosell sports commentator.
“Ah, what a mamby pamby title. Who’d want to read that?”
Shut up. It’s just to get me started.
“Well jazz it up a little bit.”
There. See! How’s that?
“Profanity is the lazy way. Be original”
Shut up. Or I’ll use it on you!
“You call that an opening line? Please!”
Shut up. It’s just to get me started.
See what I’m up against? You, too?
How to put these guys to sleep while I write my “shitty” first draft.
Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep.
But I’m fresh out of opioids. Besides, it would put me to sleep and I’d never hear the end of it from my sponsor.
What works for me
What works for me is music. Loud but wordless. Instrumental music is instrumental in helping me silence the inner voices.
I think it works by having something else I can listen to that fills that space in an abstract way that does not distract the way singing would.
Another ploy is to do something mindless with my body. Especially with water. This can be taking a shower or washing dishes.
The water gets ideas flowing. And while my body is busy, creative thoughts start percolating.
Especially in the shower. It’s almost as if the muse is teasing me.
“Betcha won’t remember this.”
The idea on how to completely rewrite my recent post about entering the world of To Kill A Mockingbird came to me in the shower. When you read it I explain how cringe-making the first version was.
That also happened in another post called “STOP!” I was telling the story and not liking how it was showing up on the page.
From the dish suds, the idea bubbled up to show don’t tell in other words, do a you- are-there present tense dramatization of the story. I did. And it read a whole lot better to me, anyway.
That’s great for re-writes. What about the blank page?
Again I go back to giving myself permission to write shitty first drafts.
Just get it down. Even if I have no idea what I really want to say.
My Muse rewards effort. Aside from the shower thing, she doesn’t come unless I am writing. Being at the computer or notebook is a sign that I am serious and ready to take dictation.
She’s shy though. She rarely dictates a first draft. Or maybe she’s stingy. Kind of reminds me of God only helps those who help themselves.
But I’m writing this piece this way. All I had when I read the prompt was the question for myself, how do I close the door? Knowing that audience thing is inside my head. And write shitty first drafts.
But as I wrote one sentence, the next one formed. I often write short fiction and poetry this way, but not usually for these kind of posts. I did not know when I started that I was going to write a dialogue with one of those inner critics.
One more thing I do. I set a timer. For five or ten minutes and do a free write in answer to an open question like: What’s on my mind right now? No rules except to keep writing the entire time no matter what.
Often, not every time, an idea will emerge, a gem sparkling in the manure.
It might just be one sentence, one phrase, or one word. But I take it and wipe off the manure and use it as the seed for a whole new piece. “Save the Last Dance for Death” came to life that way.
There’s something energizing about the ticking clock. Maybe it works because I’m able to have absolutely no expectations on myself to be masterful. After all, it’s just a silly experiment. Done behind that closed door.
Creativity is a process.
Water needs freezing time to make ice. Seeds need germination time to sprout. Babies like about nine months to gestate.
God took seven whole days to make the entire Universe. No one was leaning over His shoulder making catty comments. Or at least lived to tell about it. Come to think of it, earth might fall into the category of “shitty first drafts.”
But we bloggers like to crank things out instantly. So we can post and then go check our stats — again. Life on line is like that.
But remember, it’s okay to slow down and take our time. Write a shitty first draft. Then take a shower and write a better second draft, and then do the dishes or go swimming with the kids, or wash the dog, or look at the sunset.
I betcha your Muse is working the whole time — in silence. So to imitate the great Bobby McFarrin, Don’t worry, write shitty!
And I didn’t think I had anything to say!
Marilyn Flower writes fast fun reads with a touch of magical realism to strength the imagination of socially conscious folks. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her during these crazy times. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, and five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco.