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?)

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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.

Palm Springs.

I’m astonished that we actually survived to this mini-vacation that’s been planned for months and always on the brink of being canceled.

For some incomprehensible reason, vacations are difficult for us to actually pull off as a couple. (But I kind of think that this might actually be mostly because of me.) Somehow, the day before departure, we always end up with a to-do list like this:

1. Do all the things.

2. Shit! Why did we do none of the things before now?

3. And why are they all the most important, time-sensitive things?

We are not so good at doing the things when we should do them. Instead, we’re like “What? That Thing? That Thing will be great to do tomorrow. Tomorrow is a very great day for doing That Thing.”

If you add up all those Tomorrows, they equal The Day Before Vacation. Always.

And then we’re in the car and we’re stressed out and we’re having a fight about the proper speed to drive a car (could it not possibly be the posted speed limit, I ask – nay, plead?) and we’re all VACATION SUCKS LET’S GO HOME AND LIVE OUR NORMAL, STUPID LIVES INSTEAD BECAUSE THAT’S BETTER THAN THIS GARBAGE.

But then we get to our vacation and we’re amazed that it’s nice and wonderful. Part of the reason it’s nice and wonderful is that we finally did all the stupid things that were cluttering up our to-do lists and making us miserable every day for months while we were avoiding them.

So the moral of the story is that we would be happier people if we did the things we were supposed to do – but would we appreciate our vacations as much? Or do we need the contrast of misery to really enjoy them?

The latter doesn’t seem like a good moral, so we’ll say it’s the former. Do I believe this with any conviction? Meh, yeah, sure.

Ta-ta, time to continue vacationing!

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.

In Character.

I’m writing a murder mystery. I expect to finish it in about 10 years.

I’m at the “plotting a murder” stage. Which, I’ll be frank, is a strange stage. I’ve never plotted a murder, though I’ve solved many. Fictional murders, people. We’re talking about fictional murders. Concentrate.

When I started writing this novel I, with my usual attention to detail, had no plan whatsoever. I just sat down and channeled my muses for about an hour or so, letting the words drip from my fingertips like honey.

Shockingly, every time I would re-read the paragraph or so that had taken me an entire hour to craft (efficiency above all), I’d think to myself, “What is this god-awful slovenly mess?” and delete it all dramatically.

It’s a very emotional experience, writing.

The interesting thing about plotting a murder (fictional) is that it’s primarily not about “the murder.” It’s not about the clues, it’s not about the weapon, it’s not about the concealment of the crime – or any of the cliches.

Plotting a murder, like anything else I can write about, has everything to do with plotting people. We all know that narratives often center around some kind of crucible because situations that test us reveal who we are at our very cores. The murder-y setting is a crucible of chaos and fear into which I throw my characters to see their true selves emerge. I’m surprised this didn’t occur to me sooner. Actually, I’m not. There is this pattern in my life of me not realizing crucial things at crucial times.

I struggled and struggled to start this damn book. I decided to start at the beginning because I really had nowhere else to start. I started with WORDS, I started with FEELINGS. I started with self-indulgent descriptions of fantasy realities. None of this took me anywhere. Everything I wrote felt aimless and ungrounded.

So then, not knowing what else to do, I decided to put all these characters in a room and started a conversation. I sat down and thought about the people – started to get to know them. Their names, jobs, personalities, flaws. And, though I couldn’t tell you the details of the beginning, middle, and end of their story by any means, the nothingness I’ve been staring at for months has now become a very blurry picture.

I looooove this blurry picture. Let me tell you. After staring at a depressing void for months, this blurry picture is GORGEOUS, full of all this potential.