On Shitty First Drafts

One of my favorite books on writing is "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life," by Anne Lamott. A very good friend gave it to me a number of years ago and its one of those books that gets better on the re-read. Anyway, Anne Lamott writes about the inavoidable "shitty first draft." Every first draft is shitty. That's what second drafts are for... and well sixth and tenth drafts as well. This is how you get to looking back on something you published a few years ago and wonder what awesome person wrote it, because wow, it sure reads well.

I am a master at crummy first drafts and this is because I have no fear of committing total crap to the screen. If that degree in writing has done anything for me, it has been taking away the hesitation of writing that first sentence. Yep, all due to that degree and enough coffee... or occasionally a half a bottle of wine (at home, I promise. I cleaned out my drawer of vice when I moved to the new university).

What has come as a revelation to me is that a dear former mentor of mine writes shitty first drafts also. He's one of the best writers I've ever known. He can take a few of my paragraphs, make some minor tweaks that never would have occurred to me, and the text just sings. God I hate it when he does that. So freaking annoying. I usually only saw what were probably his fourth or later drafts. Until Google docs. Collaborating with Google docs is an eye opener because everyone sees every little draft. I always knew he worked hard at being such an awesome writer, but I guess it never really clicked until I saw those awful first drafts. Crap-tastic, just like mine.

This has been pretty inspirational for me. And a reminder that good, clear scientific writing is not going to come quickly, so I might as well hunker down and enjoy the process without all that extra anxiety piled on top. It'll get there. Eventually. At some point. With enough coffee.


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