The Joy of Terrible First Drafts (Plus a Free Art Print!)

Anne Lamott quote on writing printable

Writing is hard. Writing well is even harder. And unfortunately, I think too many people forget that writing well is not a talent–it’s a process. It starts with one draft, usually a pretty bad one, and then evolves during editing to become not-so-bad, and hopefully, pretty darn good.

Yet we have this idea that we should write well the first time. That we have to start at the right spot, end at the right spot, and have all the right things in between. That if we don’t start with strong writing, it means we’re not any good and our words won’t ever get better.

But that’s just not the way creativity works in real life. Sometimes we have the words to start in the middle, sometimes we have to dump out all the not-right words before we can find the right ones, and sometimes we just need to flow each word out, one at a time, with no idea where they’ll lead.

Every single writer, blogger, and creative deals with this. No one is immune to the fear that comes with a blinking cursor on a blank page. I actually think there should be a 12-step program to overcome CBCA (Chronic Blinking Cursor Anxiety). Someone please invent this! Seriously.

Even though, as an editor and literary agent, I’ve seen firsthand how much editing it really takes to get to great writing, I still wish my own first drafts were better. Even this post you’re now reading started off with me feeling stumped about how to start. So I started in the middle, with what I had in my head right then, then I went back afterward and filled in things with the hope (fingers crossed!) that it would make a modicum of sense. But the first draft of this post was terrible. Truly bad. Like the disjointed ramblings of David After Dentist.

Luckily, the world’s terrible first drafts never need to see the light of day, and when we give ourselves permission to let them be terrible, we’ll have an easier time getting started at all. Hey, if a writer as talented as Anne Lamott needs to throw down some nonsense on her way to the good stuff, then we’re not in bad company.

So for your every day inspiration, I created an art print with Anne Lamott’s smart words (pictured above)! You can download it here for free, print it on standard (letter-sized) paper, frame it, and hang it near your work space.

I hope it serves as a helpful reminder that starting somewhere is always better than not starting at all!