But What About the Shitty Second Draft?

Well, the honest-to-goodness truth is that I am now in full possession of a shitty first draft, authored by yours truly. I can indeed vouch for its shittiness. In fact, I had to dig down deep to pull out such a heaping load of crap, but I did it.

Things I know:

1. It is not the best first draft ever written.

2. It is not the worst first draft ever written.

 

Congratulations to myself! I have achieved my life-long goal of absolute mediocrity.

All in a day’s work, my friend. (Actually, like 100 days’ work, but who’s counting?)

Ok, then. Do you want to know something that is absolutely devastating? After you write a shitty first draft, you have to write a slightly less shitty second draft, and then keep revising and revising until you die or the world ends, whichever comes first. I mean, I technically knew this before I started the process but I don’t think I really knew knew it, you know what I mean?

I have heard people say that 80% of the work of a novel takes 20% of the effort, leaving the last 20% of the work with 80% of the effort.

What in the name of all hell?

I call that a very bad system. And if you’re telling me that this draft I just did was only 20% of the effort I’ll eventually have put into it, then – well, you can just take that 80% and stick it somewhere extremely uncomfortable, thanks very much.

Ok, ok, fine. If I’ve come this far I guess I better slog on to the finish line. Kidding! I’m thrilled!

But here’s the thing about the second draft. In order to achieve it, you have to read your first draft. You can’t just write the shitty first draft and then move along with your life feeling excellent about yourself. You have to experience your own terribleness first-hand and then try to make it better.

There is so much wrong with this that I can’t even get into all of it here, but suffice it to say that reading your own first draft is a fate I would not wish on my worst enemy. Maybe that’s and exaggeration (yes), but you see my point.

You always do because you, Internet, are my truest, dearest friend.

So! Onward with revisions – it’s been painful so far, but it’s going to be worth it! (Right?)

Shitty First Drafts.

Every writer I’ve ever talked to or even glanced at has told me that the writing process consists first of simply dumping words out and sorting them after. The lovely Louise Penny told me that I must just heap a pile of merde onto paper first before anything else can happen. Anne Lamott has an entire chapter dedicated to Shitty First Drafts in her book, Bird by Bird.

I can’t even enumerate all the times this concept has been explained to me, and in so many different, helpful, illustrative ways.

I repeat the words to others and I say them to myself even more frequently, like a mantra. I remind myself that what I’m doing here is finishing this thing. I’m not writing the damn Bible. No divine inspiration here, guys.

So HOW is it, I ask you, that I still can’t seem to get this idea into my so-thick skull?

Every time I write a paragraph (or page or several pages or 100 of them) that feels shitty to me, I’m devastated. Shocked. Appalled.

How could this happen to me?

If this is the point of it, if this is what I’m actually supposed to be doing – then what is the problem? Why do I feel like this? I’m fairly certain it’s because, in my ever delightful mind, what’s going on is that I’m not allowing for an ACTUALLY shitty first draft. I’m allowing for a slightly less perfect first draft. Like Da Vinci’s sketches. They’ll still be famous and clamored after. But just, you know, not quite the Mona Lisa.

It’s so uncomfortable for one to feel that one has failed. There’s a sentence with some distancing. It’s uncomfortable for me to feel that I’ve failed. Shitty first drafts are basically a series of not-quites and failures strung together into a lengthy testament to human frailty, and not only that but of the writer’s particular frailties as well.

Anne Lamott says:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

This perverse perfectionism is just pride, which is deeply connected to fear. I’m so unchill about failing that I won’t even wait to actually fail before freaking out about it, I’ll just refuse to allow it to happen. My fragile ego can’t handle even the thought of it. And it is a kind of insanity. Perfection is impossible. Trying to be perfect is an exercise in futility. And what is perfect when it comes to creativity, anyways? Don’t we love our flawed, imperfect creations? If we can love people, we can love imperfect art.

Sometimes I think creation is this impossible mixture of arrogance and humility. You have to be convinced that you have something worth putting out into the world yet completely at peace with the fact that everyone might hate it, and possibly even for good reason. You yourself may hate it. It may be garbage.

But – and I’m not saying I know how – I have to get to this place where I can write something terrible, because that is the only way I will get to the place where I will be able to write something. I need to write an entire terrible book and feel that it was worth doing. And, sure, if my book magically turns out to be awesome after the first go-round, great. More than extremely unlikely, but sure. Great. But that is not my concern. It is so far from my concern that I should never spend any time thinking about the possibility.

I should simply be thrilled if I end up with 300 pages of total refuse, because that means I did the thing that all those wise and brilliant writers talk about. I wrote the shitty first draft. And the books that we love and treasure and read again and again – most of them were once shitty first drafts. Just like all the lovely people we adore and want to spend time with were once lesser, more immature and horrible versions of themselves.

So the project is to dig deeper down inside myself and find that acceptance and humility I need in order to actually do this thing (or anything, for that matter).

That sounds easy.

In the words of G.O.B.

Sometimes when I make a decision I feel really great about it. I want to be a huge, bragging douchebag about my awesome decision because I decided something and, in so doing, displayed great awesomeness.

Other times, I make a decision and immediately hear G.O.B.’s voice in my head.

I’ve made a huge mistake.

I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes it seems like the first thing has never happened and the second thing happens all the time. Take from that what you will.

The thing about situations like that is that they are almost always preceded by a feeling that I should most definitely make a different decision than the one I am about to make. But I’m a person who tends to doubt herself. So much so that, at times, I have deep misgivings about ordering dinner.

Dinner.

Misgivings.

Deep.

Are we hearing this?

There are times when I truly don’t know what to do and there are times when I do listen to my gut, but it takes a prodigious amount of effort. I feel like this should be the default for situations where moral codes don’t apply (personal decisions that don’t present a choice between “right” and “wrong”), but somehow that switch got turned off and all of a sudden I’m without a compass because, as it turns out, your gut can’t effectively be replaced by any one particular thing. Nobody else’s beliefs, intuitions, life experience, and self-knowledge course through your veins – only yours. You can reach and grasp for another impetus, but you will only ever be guessing.

What is correct? 

What should I do?

What would my family think?

What is the socially acceptable thing to do?

What is polite?

And so I flail about, all the while ignoring the sick feeling in my stomach that says “beware of what you are about to do.” I often find myself making a decision that seems to accord with some reality somewhere – just not mine.

And then, once I’m stuck in someone else’s reality, all the thoughts that I had and ignored crystallize to form a perfect picture what I should have done and I am suddenly very brilliant and very wise indeed. But by then, I am stuck.

I recently got myself un-stuck from a terrible decision, which was one of the boldest moves I’ve made recently and proceeded by the most labyrinthine of thought processes. Many sleepless nights and back-and-forths. But I finally looked to my gut and my gut said: go.

Even if it had turned out to be a mistake (which I don’t believe it has), it would have been my mistake and one honestly made. And I would only be able to look to myself for either fault or credit, and I would be able to own it and grow from it since there’s nobody else to blame for a decision you make on your own.

I think they call that being a grown-up.

So here’s to being a motherfucking grown-up.

Solitude.

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There is an art to solitude and quiet.

It’s easy to fill up whatever free time I have with little nothings that feel like somethings. But the sum of zeroes is zero, and when all is said and done I have shortchanged myself by doing many nothings than by doing no things.

I’m trying to get better at this. I have a feeling my productive time will be more productive if my quiet time is quieter.

But, even if it’s not, I will have improved my life and my self by merely inching toward the mastery of occasional solitude.

The Vast Unknown.

ocean

 

When life seems uncertain, I ball up my fists and shut my eyes tight against it.

When life seems uncertain, I dig in my heels.

When life seems uncertain, I hide under the covers.

Don’t worry. I’ll get it one day. And that will be the day I can say “Life is always uncertain” and still keep a smile on my face.

Laws of Nature.

Occasionally I come upon words I wrote in years past (usually while bludgeoning my way through writer’s block) and they still ring true within me. Probably because people don’t change very much, really. This still rings. Its sounds rather depressive, but it’s just thoughts. Thoughts are roller coasters that plunge and soar and everything in between, all in a moment’s time. Writing them down just makes them seem more serious because then they’re words on a page, black and white, taking up space – no longer tucked away inside tidy, well-groomed heads. (Or maybe not well-groomed, if you’re me and it’s an in-between day when I don’t wash my hair.)

 

I find myself at odds with those things that cannot be escaped: this spinning world, some kind of falling fruit prove the grave truth that I am, as I have always suspected, earth-bound.

And not a sky full of suns can hold my upward gaze as long as there is down to fall – as long, that is, as time.

If only I can find something just to keep my head up, well then perhaps I’ll fly, though I am but dragging arms and legs, heavy skin, bones, blood and sinking heart.

 

My Treasures.

ImageI’ve been collecting treasures for several years. I’m not referring to physical treasures. (Though I do that too. I call it “collecting.” Some other people call it “shopping.” And my husband calls it “WHY DO WE NEED MORE BOWLS??” because I really like bowls.)

The treasures I’m talking about are the small comforts that bring me peace and inspiration in both my daily life and in those times I’m seek something “other” – something beyond my normal.

In my early 20s, I was too chaotic to notice what brought me peace. I was a whirlwind of naiveté and narcissism – I thought nothing and everything was about me, all at the same time. I loved and hated myself and others, ever not knowing how I really felt or thought. I was distracted by how much I thought I knew to really learn the things I needed to know. And my eyes were too full of stars and tears (many of my own making) to see anything, even what was right in front of me or inside of me.

I am slow to learn these things. So beautifully, painfully slow. And when I finally learn something, I learn it good. The things in me are rooted deep – both the good and the bad.

Over the past several years I have spent time tending to those roots. Weeding out the bad so the good can flourish. Sometimes they are so intertwined, the good and the bad, so entangled that it seems they cannot live without each other. But that’s all part of it. Replacing the bad with good so the good can become even better, freed from the chokehold of rot and death. It takes a lifetime and more.

I am at my weakest when I am “overwhelmed” and I am easily overwhelmed. That is when everything bad inside me becomes stronger and takes over. But I have learned that there are things I can do to help myself when I feel that way, things that will ease the internal pressure. Even in this, though, there is a struggle for good. There are wise things and unwise things I can do to relieve this pressure. The unwise things starve and malnourish the parts of me I most want to grow, while easing the pain of the “bad” enough that I feel the shifty goodness of pleasure for a few hours at a time.

It is exhausting, my friends. Pain with shocking jolts of pleasure. There is no steadiness, no peace in that.

The wise things are slow and strong. They are not so much pleasurable as they are just plain pleasant once my mind is calm enough to accept them.

1. Beauty. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is as calming to me as being near the ocean.

2. Giving. Thinking about someone that is not myself brings me perspective.

3. Creating. This can be a thinking outward or an expression of what is inside.

4. Walking. When I’m overwhelmed, my mind is immobilized. Moving my body can help me shake my thoughts free.

5. Talking. Verbalizing what I’m feeling takes away the secret power of my thoughts.

6. Quiet. The most difficult of all. Sitting with my own thoughts and overcoming them with stillness. It is a kind of mastery. This is usually my last resort but should be my first.

These are my treasures. I still don’t understand them as well as I should, and maybe there are even more to be discovered. But this is what I have now and what I will cherish with all my heart.