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!

Zen Habits–How To Make Yourself Work

how to write more and be prolific

One of my all-time favorite blogs is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. It’s amazing because it’s different–just look at the main page, and you’re instantly struck by how it looks nothing like anything else on the internet. No ads, no images, no lists of posts, very few links, and no social media icons. It’s just one post on a blank page, with a few links that lead you to years and years of archived posts. It’s quiet in a noisy world. As much as I always tell my authors about the importance of design, this is the perfect example that website design doesn’t have to be cookie cutter–it just has to be impactful.

Lucky for us, the writing on Zen Habits is just as impactful. Leo’s such a master of condensing so much knowledge and inspiration into just a few short sentences. Makes my long-winded self jealous! And I also think his approach to writing as a profession, particularly writing on the internet, is incredible. He went the traditional route for a while, running a blog with ads and writing a book with a traditional publisher, then decided the whole thing just wasn’t jibing with his minimalist values. So he uncopyrighted his blog posts (more on this here), pulled all his ads, and refocused on helping his readers in a more direct way. He moved his business model to one of building value with his readers, so that now they directly support his business by signing up for his great e-courses and buying his ebooks, instead of having third parties, like advertisers, support the business. It’s both a radical idea and a simple idea–not too different from a business model like that of NPR, where the emphasis is on serving the public, and then inspiring the public to support you back.

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Read, Eat, Drink–Weekend Roundup

Feeling stuck in your work? Get the inspiration flowing again with this quick read,  which is about my personal sandwich hero, Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not only is he an absolute god with a muffuletta sandwich, but he jumped into building a business with only his good sense and solid values about him. (Too many people check those two things at the door when they enter business.) He decided he didn’t want to be the biggest business, or the most profitable business—he just wanted to be the greatest.


At a certain point, anyone in a creative endeavor, including business, has to decide what kind of company/writer/artist/boss/blogger they’re going to be. Creatives can be especially prone to endless comparison, to always wondering what the other guy is doing. Which leads to doing things like the other guy does them. And we all know that conformity is anathema to creativity (and to happiness, which we can’t pretend doesn’t matter at the end of the day).

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