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. I have to improve my 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 snow boarding 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 snow board; 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.