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Writing update: crappy first draft

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May 04, 2007

Writing update: crappy first draft

Stephen Baker

I spent most of the day yesterday sitting on this blue couch, legs stretched out in front of me, writing a book chapter on medicine. I was going on about genes and snips and inbred lab rats, and I was under the illusion that what I was writing was flowing, fun, clear, in short, everything I wanted. I enjoyed dinner.

Then I sat down to read what I'd written. It was garbled, stilted in places, not nearly as fun as I'd thought. I wrote AWK in about seven paragraphs. So my question now: Do I go back and fix it? I mulled this over breakfast. But I've decided to plow ahead. A completed first draft, even if it's bad, has one overwhelming virtue. It's written. I can fix it later.

09:13 AM

Weekend Rant

My favorite book about the process of writing is "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. Part of its beauty is the humorous and self-effacing way in which she gives herself -- and others -- the permission to write first drafts that suck. Plow ahead. You can fix it later.

Posted by: Rex Hammock at May 4, 2007 11:29 AM

I love Bird by Bird too. I was just in the middle of writing and feeling overwhelmed. When I saw your comment it reminded me that it's just one paragraph at at time.

Posted by: Heather Green at May 4, 2007 06:14 PM

yeah, I liked that book too. I especially liked the scene that gave the name to the book. Her little brother is totally paralyzed by his school project, which involves synthesizing everything he's learned about birds over the entire year into a paper. He doesn't know where to start. And their father, a writer, leans over the table and encourages the kid to start with one bird, and then just take it bird by bird.

I read that book while I was writing a novel. With that experience, I learned that the joy of writing something creative and personal, and the feeling of achievement you get from finishing it, are not always preludes to success in the commercial world. But they're enough.

Posted by: steve baker at May 6, 2007 07:03 AM

Let me share something I got from Peter Drucker years ago. He recommended something called the Zero draft, because it came before the first draft. I've used the concept ever since. Sometimes the Zero draft becomes the bones or DNA of a real first draft. More often, in my case at least, I ditch it entirely and embark on the first draft which almost always goes well after I've cleaned out my brain and discovered possibilities with draft zero.

Posted by: Wally Bock at May 9, 2007 11:59 AM

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