This one quote can make it easy to write a first draft, plus a free printable art print with the Anne Lamott quote about shitty first drafts from Bird by Bird.
I hunched into my laptop and clenched my teeth. I glared at the screen. I wrote a sentence, then deleted it. I wrote another one and deleted it, too. I did not want to write a first draft. Ever.
So I decided to quit my job and become a construction worker. I decided to quit my job and become a nurse. I decided to quit my job and become anything else on earth but someone who has to produce words for a living.
I plodded through a few more sentences and decided the only job I was qualified for was dog-petter. I excel at dog-petting.
I kept going, stopping to make fun of each sentence as it went down.
I did not look like this:
(Jarrett makes sitting down to write a first draft look so relaxing.)
You see, I used to hate to sit down to write a first draft. (Do you?)
But then, a few years ago I read a quote that completely changed how I feel about first drafts. It made me realize: it can actually be easy to write a first draft.
This quote can make it easy to write a first draft
I realized that it’s painful to write a first draft because we hold onto an illusion: the illusion that our first drafts should be good. Or even adequate. Or anything but god-awful.
But that’s entirely wrong.
That illusion is chaining us to tense, boring first drafts. It’s making us turn on ourselves. It snuffs our sparkle and stomps on our fun.
So how do we make it easy to write a draft?
We let go of that illusion.
And we let go of that illusion by clinging to this one quote. I’ve heard this quote referenced hundreds of times in my career as a literary agent and editor.
I know writers who write incredibly well and make a lot of money doing it and who’ve filed this quote away in their mental pep talk archive.
This quote on how to write a first draft comes from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, one of the most beloved books on writing. As Anne writes:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
When I first read that in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, it freed me.
It freed me to see the first draft as a starting point rather than as Judgment Day. It made me realize that it can be fun and easy to write a first draft. As Anne goes on to say:
“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.
If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,’ you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to go into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him.
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 means.
There may be something the in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposted to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go—but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
So, instead of wincing through our painfully bad sentences as we write a first draft, we can throw our heads back and laugh at it. Ha ha ha, that’s really bad, we’ll say. Ha ha ha, that doesn’t make a speck of sense!
And that’s great. It’s great that our first draft is terrible, because it means we’re letting loose and flowing. We’re outrunning our inner critics and we’re getting high off the thrill of going, going, going.
So, to help us all remember that the first draft is for nobody but us, I created a free printable art print with every writer’s favorite Anne Lamott quote:
If you need to remember this liberating quote like I do, then download this free printable art print with the Anne Lamott quote, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
I hope it keeps you from quitting to become a professional dog-petter. Because I already applied for that job.
More tips to make it easy to write a first draft:
What I’m Reading This Week
Angie Mar’s Menu: Red Meat and Respect (Tejal Rao for The New York Times): We were so proud to see Stonesong client, Angie Mar, make the front page of the Time’s food section last week! My favorite thought from the piece: “As reports of abuse and sexual harassment in the restaurant business continue to break, Ms. Mar provides an obvious reminder: It is possible — it has always been possible — for a chef to pursue excellence without creating a toxic environment.”
Women Writing about the Wild: 25 Essential Authors (Kathryn Aalto for Outside): Nature + women writers = exactly what we all need more of this year.
Say what you mean to say (Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy): This post really hit me hard. It made me think about how novels aren’t just plots wound out–they are reflections of real life, and they’re meant to remind us of what if.
14 books that will change your life in 2018 (Locke Hughes for Today.com): Looky here, my author Erin’s book, How To Get Sh*t Done, is on this list! And there’s lots of other great, life-changing reads on deck here, too.
What We’re Eating This Week
We were in Miami last weekend, where I ate ten trillion stone crab legs and six peel-n-eat shrimp. A precise counter, I am.
Monday: Cava on our way home from the airport. Because I will collapse if I have to eat another Chipotle bowl.
Tuesday: Well, Jarrett meal-planned for tonight. I am actively encouraging his participation in meal-planning so I am actively not going to use the word weird about the meal we ate.
Wednesday: I know our nation is divided, but I have great news: we are not divided on how to make split pea soup!! I was Googling for a split pea soup recipe, and every single person told me to put ham in it. There is no other way, apparently. And I’m perfectly willing to fall in line for the sake of national unity. Except–I don’t have ham. I have this sausage. So please don’t tell the internet on me.
Thursday: Jarrett is at a class after work, so I’m making a leisurely giant bowl of spaghetti using a recipe from this cookbook. Ah, the single life.
Friday: Our second meeting of dinner club is tonight, and it is Mexican-themed! (This is a front for drinking margaritas all night.)