Just . . . Keep . . . Writing

I’ve read lots of books on writing over the years, but I’ve always read them from a teacher’s perspective ie. how can I use these ideas to help improve my student’s writing?  Now that I’ve begun writing, they’ve taken on a whole new meaning. 

How do I improve my own writing?!?

I haven’t written much in the last week or so due to lack of time and (I’ll admit) commitment.  So last night as I was watching a movie with my son, playing Words with Friends (a highly addictive app for scrabble people like myself), and not writing, I was thinking about why I’ve been avoiding my story.  I like my plot, my characters, my setting, but I don’t really like what I’ve written so far.  I’ve always been a decent writer.  It’s something that has come fairly easily to me.  But my novel is fiction, something I’ve never really tried and fiction is hard.

As I was pondering this, I thought of Annie Lamott’s book Bird by Bird.  It’s one of my favorite texts on writing.  Chapter 3 is titled “Shitty First Drafts” and chapter 4?  “Perfectionism.”  I realized that this is where I am.  I’ve written scenes and even whole chapters, and well, I’ll admit, some of it’s pretty shitty.  I’m not used to writing “shitty.”  And, I don’t really like it.

Apparently, I have to get used to it.  Lamott says, “All good writers write them [shitty first drafts].  This is how they end up with good second drafts, and terrific third drafts.”  I know I’m a good writer in the sense that I can write concise clear sentences, but can I build a story?  That’s a whole different ball game.  I’m not sure why I expected myself to do this really well, my first time.  Thinking about it, it’s a little bit (a lot) ridiculous.

A few years ago, I tried snowboarding.  I’ve been skiing since I was seven, so I didn’t think snowboarding would be that hard.  They both entail coming down a mountain attached to a board, right?  Wrong! 

My skiing skills did not transfer even a little bit.  I never got off the bunny hill on the snowboard; I was bruised and battered, both physically and mentally, and I gave up.  I have not picked up a snowboard since; instead, I’ve stuck with skiing, something I know how to do really well.  Learning to write fiction has been a little bit the same way.  I think I expected the transfer of my writing skills to a new genre to be a little bit easier . . . or maybe less painful?

I’m not giving up; this is just another mountain to go up, so I can have the fun of cruising down the other side.  But this is the hard part for me.  The initial excitement of this project has worn off a bit, and now I’m really having to work at this.

Annie Lamott’s book goes through the entire writing process.  Her last chapters deal with publication.  I wish I was there, but I’m still at chapter 2.  So, I’ll keep plugging away on my shitty first draft and hopefully, at some point, it will be a “terrific third draft” and worthy of a reader . . . somewhere.

No Comments

  1. hawleywood40 on May 23, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I can so relate to this, and am so glad you posted it! I’m learning the same lessons – that even as a ‘good writer’ who has some pretty unique and interesting story ideas, I’m going to have some shitty first drafts. There are bits and pieces even within those first drafts that I go back to with pride and say ‘wow, I wrote that!’ but overall the weaving together of a good, flowing story is harder than I thought it would be, and the sticking with it when the initial adrenaline rush wears off is tough.

    • Amy Isaman on May 26, 2011 at 3:35 am

      The adrenaline rush is the fun part! Its the sticking with it that can be a challenge. I agree with you!

  2. Margaret on May 25, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Amy. I so know where you’re coming from. I’ve been writing fiction seriously for going on eleven years now and can remember feeling just as you did. It does gets better–though writing shitty first drafts remain part of the process. Sometimes I can do a quick write and be pleased with it, but a whole scene or chapter, let alone a novel? Nope. That doesn’t happen. I believe I will be revising until my novels get published. And they will get published! I’m keeping a positive attitude on that. Don’t give up. Keep on plugging along, and you’ll be surprised each time you finish a novel that you’ve actually done it.

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