“It just fell out of my pen,” one of my classmates said about a poem she wrote. She’s a careful writer, given to tightly-woven descriptions that are haunting. I think she’s being modest about how she writes. Most writers’ first drafts are idea dumps that need sorting and work to make them usable.
Beginning writers often feel they should be able to think about a topic, write, then hit “send.” Please don’t. First drafts are important, necessary, and never the last draft.
Compare writing to getting dressed in the morning–a much simpler task. Do you open the closet, take out items that fit, match and suit the weather in one easy motion, put on accessories that you choose by intuition, do your morning bathroom routine without checking a mirror and know you are well put together? Doubt it.
Bands, sports teams, committees, and work places need to carefully choose the people who are right for their teams. The teams need to practice to get along, practice to work on the same project successfully in different areas of expertise, and check in with each other to make sure the work is progressing and is useful. Good results aren’t a coincidence.
Writing is no different. First drafts, Anne Lamott says, are “shitty first drafts.” Thinking your first draft is the final work is fantasy, according to Lamott:
Now . . . shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with goodsecond drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers whoare getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and thinkthat they sit down at their desks every morning. . .take in a few deep breaths. . . dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.