I had an epiphany recently while reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book on writing that several author friends recommended.
Putting my book together in pieces, imagining my end product but watching it morph into something different, all-in-all feeling like I don’t know exactly what I’m doing… These feelings are all normal!
Well, according to Anne, anyway. And I suppose since this is my first book, I’ve got some leeway.
Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow.
Until now, I thought my way of writing was quirky. Since I’m writing the book out of order — albeit following an outline — I allow myself to write whatever scene I feel like on a particular day. My book is in pieces, and I’m pasting them together. But this goes along well with Lamott’s advice to think about a project as a series of short assignments:
Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That’s all we are going to do for now.
She also gives writers permission to write what she calls “shitty first drafts.” No, even better, she encourages writers to produce at less than par the first time around:
The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.
Oh my gosh! I thought while reading this. No one will see my first draft! It can be horrible and no one will ever know!
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.
Thank you, Anne Lamott, for making me feel a bit less abnormal and a little more like an emerging author.