Please welcome Barbara Mountjoy, who was a semi-finalist in WU’s search for an unpubbed contributor. She wrote:
I’ve been writing for 40-plus years, since I was 10. I have been a published writer for over 35 years, including seven years as a reporter and editor at the South Dade News Leader in Homestead, Florida. My list of publications includes fiction in Matriarch’s Way and Woman magazines, and romantic fiction in the Star.
My non-fiction book 101 Little Instructions for Surviving Your Divorce, was published by Impact Publishers in 1999. I regularly write technology articles and television reviews at Firefox News. Two other books featured my stories in the past year: A Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women, in December 2008, and A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Parents, in June 2009.
I have a number of novel manuscripts, but I’ve yet to find an agent or editor for them, despite years of trying.
We loved her essay on giving yourself permission to write poorly, and we think you will too. Oh, and she loves dark chocolate (bonus!). Enjoy!
Getting it Down: Crappy First Drafts
“The first draft may be stumbling and exhausting, but the next draft or drafts will be soaring and exhilarating. Only have faith: the first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence has been written. Only then do you know where you’ve been going, and where you’ve been.”
— from The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates
Even for those who are planners instead of pantsers, Joyce Carol Oates has it right.
During the writing of a story, the characters, the situations, the timelines change to fit new thoughts that come to the writer in process. Those pesky quandaries—how does the red herring get into place? How can he know where she’ll be if he doesn’t have a GPS? How can an electrical fire burn down a garage using only woodworking tools and a pared-down wire?—sometimes don’t resolve themselves until the end.
So how can the writer know where to find herself until it’s done?
This resolution calls for a first draft.
Now, “first draft,” as in completed all the way to the end, may be as scary to you as “boogeyman,” but it shouldn’t be. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Even better news…is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
There. If Anne Lamott says it, you’ve got permission to write a crappy first draft. Go for it.
Writers often complain of the inner perfectionist who forces them to stop, reread what they’ve written, and tweak, audit, or retype until they are so discouraged they can’t continue. This work will never be good enough! they say. Another effort for the shelf.
But this will never get you a first draft.
A true gift to yourself is the promise to release that small voice in your head. Send it on vacation to the Bahamas, if you’d like (and it had better send you a postcard!). Put it out of listening range. Get your words down on paper. Finish what you thought you had to say, so that you can discover what you really need to say.
I do this each year with NaNoWriMo. During these “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon,” I commit myself to drafting the fleshed-out skeleton of a new work in toto, at least 50,000 words, usually more. I don’t edit. I don’t tear out my hair, even if the story takes an unexpected turn as I discover more about the characters. I keep writing.
Even potential plot holes, mussy motives, and exact how-to issues don’t murder the story. There’s rewriting for that.
E.B. White said, “The best writing is rewriting.” He didn’t say, “The most fun writing is rewriting,” or “The most inspired writing is rewriting.” But only in rewriting can we discover the best parts of our work and polish them to a brilliant shine.
All we need is the courage to get that first draft down.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s xJasonRogersx