Sometimes I think of my friend with Amanda Callendrier and wonder how it happened. For example, she lives in France and is married to a hot, French man; I live in Virginia with my dad. She can wear heels without looking like an idiot; I can barely walk in my Earth shoes. But ever since grad school where she and I had to co-teach an undergrad class on Frankenstein for a woman who didn’t want us to talk about the religious overtones in the text, Amanda and I have been friends. And I am honored to have her guest blog for me today. Enjoy!
I remember my discovery of that great Anne Lamott book on writing, Bird by Bird, and her chapter that writing teachers know so well, â€œShitty First Drafts.â€ I instantly loved the irreverence, the honesty…the relief I felt learning that it was not only OK to write dreadful, horrible things that should be seen by no one, but also necessary sometimes. We all write shitty first drafts, and good things can come from them.
That said, I don’t always draft this way. Is there an argument to be made for the painstaking, thoughtful first draft? There are times when I have to think through a subject before even sitting down to my keyboard, when I’m turning around sentences and phrases before I’ve begun to write. If I’ve thought it through hard enough â€“ in the shower, during a run, in the car on the way to work â€“ there are times when the first draft is pretty much the last draft.
Despite the lack of tangible brainstorming, outlining, and scribbling, I’ve still done some preparation. I’ve tossed out some ideas, and I might have even formulated a few complete sentences before beginning. When it’s like this, the idea is on the tip of my brain and may appear haltingly, but fully formed.
The shitty first draft is indispensable when you are lost, getting started, or finding new ways. Still, there are those of us who like to do some of that messy stuff in our heads. I’m not a neat freak, but I’ll cop to occasional bouts of fussiness. I have all kinds of particularities in my everyday life which can’t help but spill over into my thought process â€“ an abhorrence of overhead lighting, the certainty that there is only one way to fold towels, and the inability to write with anything other than a blue, Pilot V-Ball pen. Such a person has, arguably, many voices with whom to discuss before words even hit the page.
Which one was this, you may be asking? Wellll, there were at least two paragraphs floating around in my head before I started, but that is the exception rather than the rule. I have another piece that I’m working on that is the shittiest of shitty first drafts. It has been through roughly five thousand revisions, and all kinds of Pilot V-ball blood has been shed in its margins. Don’t even thinking about asking to see it. But one day, one day…
If I have to do the shitty first draft every time, I’ll get so discouraged that I might just quit altogether. And if you’re brave enough to continue writing through all of the frustration that it holds, I think you need both of these â€“ the redemption offered by revision and the confidence from occasionally knowing you have your idea just right.
Amanda Callendrier teaches composition and coordinates the Writing Center at the Geneva, Switzerland campus of Webster University. She blogs for Skirt!.
– Amanda Callendrier (Photo by Sabine Zahner)