I once went to a reading by the famous memoirist David Sedaris. He told a story about a woman who came up to him after a reading and asked if he would read her nineteen-year-old daughter’s writing.
He told her he didn’t need to read it because he already knew it stunk.
Oh, David Sedaris, how I long to be you sometimes. Like when you’re with your amazing-sounding boyfriend in France. Or making people laugh for money 923489 days per year. Or just … always. Because you are hilarious.
The lady was obviously taken aback, before he explained that it was nothing against her daughter in particular … it was just that all young people’s work stinks because they’re new to writing, and don’t yet have enough experience.
He did say that her daughter should just keep at it, and that the longer she did it, the better she would be.
That story always stuck with me, not just for it’s shocking nature, but because I feel like the same advice applies to your writing as well.
We all want our rough draft to be perfect. Not only that; for some reason we demand it of ourselves, as though our creativity and genius will respond like whipped curs.
BE BRILLIANT! we scream. I’LL TAKE NOTHING LESS!
Then brilliance deserts us, so we just eat Cheetos and watch Netflix instead.
Maybe it’s because many art forms get only one shot at being great: painting, sculpting, even competitive tree pruning (yes, it’s a thing). In these arenas, you make one mistake and it’s ruined.
We seem to believe that’s true for us writers as well.
But it isn’t. You get as many takes as you want, so quit expecting perfect on the first go.
We also judge ourselves harshly when the words on the page don’t turn out as beautiful as they sound in our head. I once spent three months plotting the outline for a five-books series.
I meticulously outlined not only each book, but also how those books moved the overall story of the series forward. I found that when I sat down to actually write the first page … of the first chapter … of the first book … that lo and behold, I couldn’t produce on paper what had lived in my head for so long.
I ended up scrapping the whole thing.
What I really should have done is reminded myself that the rough draft stinks, because it’s a rough draft.
Really, when it comes right down to it, a first draft is nothing more than throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks. At first it’s all crap, but some of the crap is good enough that you can work with it.
Okay, this metaphor is getting gross. Let’s move on.
On the wall above my computer is the saying “You can’t edit what you haven’t written.”
You see the point I’m making here.
Until there’s something there, you can’t even stink properly. You’re just nothing. Viewed in that light, stinking is actually a good thing – it means you’re doing something.
Your only job is to trudge through my rough draft without self-consciousness. The rough draft is about over-writing. It’s about experimentation. Throw everything you have in there, write it every which-way and then go back and change things.
But if you get caught up in the beginning, you will stop. And then you have nothing to edit whatsoever.
You just … have nothing.
So get on out there and write that rough draft. Make it your best, but don’t expect your best to be Einsteinian. You’ll get better.
Just like David Sedaris’s fan’s daughter did. Hopefully. If she didn’t end it all after hearing what he said.
Let’s just not mention it to her, okay?
Oh and hey, while I have you, how about you check out that Free Resource Guide, below? Yep, that one there. It’s full of tips and tricks to help your writing suck less too. So I can say with full confidence, whether you’re new to this game or not, you won’t be sorry.
And hey, I won’t tell David about you either. 😉
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