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Many of us have heard–and practice–Anne Lamott’s wonderful advice in Bird by Bird to write really bad first drafts.
She has helped a lot of people with her idea that writing a deeply imperfect first draft is the only way to get a book into the world.
People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.
That, of course isn’t how it happens. We write some really really bad stuff.
But what happens after that? How do you go from there to published, which we all know takes a pretty polished piece?
How do you bridge the gap?
The answer is that there a lot of other drafts involved.
Doesn’t’ that take forever?
That is because she is practicing the OTHER secret to getting books written–she doesn’t waste time fighting the process.
It takes a lot to write a good book. And it is iterative.
That means it takes many times to get it right.
I have heard writers that I think write very funny stuff say that it doesn’t come out funny the first time–they put the funny in in a later draft.
There is some advice making the rounds that you should write an awful lot of books–just churn them out.
I don’t agree with this–for several reasons but mainly because I love literature and, along with most people I know and coach, have a deep fear of bad books–but I do agree with the idea of writing the same book several times until you get it right.
Here is the list of purposes for the seven drafts Mary Burton recommended:
- Sloppy copy
- Structure & order
- Themes, backstory & pacing
- The big read & proof
- Read aloud and proof
- Read for weak words
So the trick to having high standards without being perfectionistic to the point of stall out is to accept that there will be many drafts and push yourself to make each one better.
What do you think? How many drafts do you write? Do you let yourself write this many or do you try to make each iteration the best it can be?