This Is Why You Can Embrace the Crappiest of Crappy First Drafts (Bad Drafts Aren't Just for Beginners!)

Writing terrible first drafts is all part of the process. Whether you're a beginner, or whether you've been around a while. It's actually a GOOD sign, and here's why. |

Oh, it's going to be one of those good Mondays, you know?

I can just feel it.

How are you doing today, lionheart? Does it feel like spring?

I'm much cheerier and more sane than I was last week, because I have written thousands and thousands of words on my novel in progress. Whew. I just needed to stop planning and get scribbling, and that's made all the difference to my mood, and my mindset.

... In some ways.

In other ways—which you're familiar with too, if you've ever written anything down—I'm feeling a smidge bleak.

Because this draft is, like all other first drafts, QUITE a mess.

I'm thrilled to be moving forward on my draft. But I'm frustrated that the draft sounds weak, the voice is a little off, and some scenes are frankly a little dull. (Even though they get the story to the right place—yay, structure!)

In other words, it's a first draft, and it's behaving exactly like one.

I know that. You know that.

We all know first drafts are rough, messy, crappy drafts

... But it's easy to believe that at some point we'll emerge from the Forest of Crappy First Drafts, and break into a glorious place where our first drafts aren't bad at all. 

Where we write marvelously the first time around.

Which is why today's much-needed writing-life quote comes from Eric Maisel, in his (lovely! must read!) book, A Writer's Paris

"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. Then no particular piece of inferior work is much of a blow. You just burn it and get on with your masterpiece."


"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. ... Get on with your masterpiece." -- Eric Maisel |

It's extremely counter-productive to wait around for the day when our first drafts are pristine.

Writing improvement doesn't happen in a neat, straight, predictable line.

Have you seen this in your own work, your own first drafts: Moments of true writerly brilliance coexist right next to moments of true writerly befuddlement.

I can write a gem and, in the very next paragraph, write pure slop.

On the same day! In the same ten minutes! 

I go back and forth. Gems, slop, mediocrity, beauty, back to muddling, back to something solid, a bit more crap, and then oh, good, a lovely little twist at the end of the chapter.

And that's my drafting process.

What I love about Maisel's quote is that it helps us to think of this good draft/bad draft thing more like we're operating in a ratio, not like we're moving chronologically to a new stage of no mistakes.

Ratios! And last Thursday I mentioned percents! What, is this a math blog now?

But go with me on this.

What if there's a kind of proportion that exists: we must do x amount of really crappy work, in order to do x amount of really brilliant work.

It isn't that we graduate from doing the crappy work; it's just that the more crappy work we plow through, the more opportunities we have to write gems.

Does that make sense?

In other words, it doesn't do any good to cut ourselves off, or to stop writing, or even slow down, just because the crappy work shows up.

It has to be there. It's doing its job, holding up its side of the ratio. 

As Maisel says, we're bound to do lots of it!! 

And if we stop now, we don't get to the work in the other part of the ratio—the really brilliant stuff!

We don't magically arrive at a place where everything, from first draft to final, is impeccable. We just don't. 

With time and experience that ratio might change: we might not have to do quite so much inferior work to get the really good stuff. Maybe. 

But in the meantime, if we let our bad work stop us, we're believing the wrong thing about progress as a writer. It would mean we've bought into the idea that we can't write magnificently, even amidst the crap.

Don't believe it for a moment, my lionhearted friend!

When you see the crap show up in your work, keep right on moving! You are that much closer to writing the good stuff.

If you're feeling almost cheesily optimistic (which I am, because, hello, it's spring!!), you can almost take the crappy stuff as a good sign. 

You're on your way to the best stuff in the draft. It's like a promise.

You gotta keep going. 

Inferior work simply doesn't mean we're inferior writers. It is just what happens when we write.

Part of the process. Part of the ratio.

Right? Good.

Let's get on with our masterpieces.

This Is Why You're Going to Paris This Weekend

"Paris is the place you go when you mean to put your creative life first." -- Eric Maisel ... Putting your creative life first: that's what you're going to do this weekend, right? |

Okay. So it's going to happen. You're going to have a writing day, week, month, uh, year, that's just going to stink. You'll do your best, but won't pull out of your funk. And your work goes all wobbly.

Either it all fails big, it blows up in your face, it gets dramatic and ugly and there are tears...

Or, it just whimpers in a corner, and your imagination dulls, and the words stale off, and you kind of wonder how you ever got into this.

Here's my best recommendation: Go to Paris.

Like, today

An actual plane ticket is the best route, and if you can muster that, then go and God bless you.

For all us normal people, with tiny budgets and not super flexible schedules, here's the other route:

Get your discouraged little hands on this book.

When you're discouraged, when you're frustrated, when there is rain in your writerly soul, pick up this book: A Writer's Paris, by Eric Maisel. And it will all get better. |

A Writer's Paris, by Eric Maisel. And yes, you are allowed to swoon over the cover. It is a totally normal reaction.

Why this book?

Because Eric Maisel is exactly the writing coach that you need this weekend: He is definitely on your side.

And in this book, he understands what's going on in the mind and heart of a writer who is discouraged. A writer who is afraid and anxious.

Most of all, a writer who needs to commit to her work in a deeper way.

(That's you. That's me. That's all of us.)

So yes, this book is also about going to Paris. For, say, a year. And writing while you're there. Writing your brains out. But more than that, it's about owning your writerness, about choosing to be the writer that you are.

The chapters are short, easy to read, and packed with encouragement. Seriously, it believes in you so hard that it nearly turns inside out. (Or was that just my copy?) 

But you're reading this because you're discouraged, right? So maybe you don't feel like you can stomach talking about writing all the time. Maybe another writing book isn't what you need? 

That's why this book is so perfect: it's part writing encourager, part Paris travelogue.

Really. So you'll be daydreaming about the Seine, about gargoyles and gothic chapels, about flaky croissants and famous museums. You'll be reading little stories about Van Gogh and Hemingway, you'll be thinking about the expats in Paris, you'll be smiling over the wonderful illustrations.

So you soak up the stories about Paris. ... And as you do, you also read about embracing your own imperfection. About how to get out of a writing slump. (I've read Chapter 25, "Not Writing," approximately 200 times.) You read about motivation, about what to do with the wonderful people who support you and the difficult people who do not.

You read about where our ideas come from, about writing in public places, about running away from your work, about how to deal with discouragement. 

... I am resisting the urge to type out whole pages (21, 128, 190...) and instead will share this one quote:

There are always reasons not to write. They appear as wantonly as toadstools after the rain. Entertaining those reasons even for a split second is the path to uncreativity. Write, even if you have a twinge, a doubt, a fear, a block, a noisy neighbor, a sick cat, thirteen unpublished stories, and a painful boil. Write, even if you aren't sure. 
-- Eric Maisel

Breathe that quote in for a second. So good, right? 

If you have varsity-level discouragement, then I'd say go big. Get this book, and dive in. But don't stop there. 

Get yourself a baguette, a pack of croissants, or at the very least an éclair or some kind of pastry. (Because discouragement and calories are best friends.) Get some French-style café music playing. Grab your coffee (strong! dark! with chocolate!).

See where we're going with this? Make yourself Paris. Right where you are.

Whip up an omelette Saturday morning and keep on reading.

Invite courage in. Wrap it around you, like a warm blanket on a rainy day.

Close out your Parisian weekend by watching Midnight in Paris. (What, you thought I wasn't going to go there? I was totally going to go there! I can't get over Ernest Hemingway in that movie. CANNOT get over him. I just want listen to him talk about writing all day.) 

Have yourself a Parisian writing weekend. And dive into your next writing week refreshed--and still nibbling croissants and humming along to Edith Piaf--and ready to work.

Wanna read more about Eric Maisel? Check out these two posts, inspired by quotes from A Writer's Paris: Write Where You Are and Today Is Another Chance

The end of the dud army.

The end of the dud army.

So here's a question for your Friday evening: What excuse cycles are you used to?

What are the sequences of thought that sneak into your mind, and cause a little chain reaction of stepping back from the work? 

It's the end of the week, and that makes it a good time to clean the lint out of our mental pockets, right? 

Here are the top four goofy excuses that have crept into my thinking this week, kicking me away from my desk: 

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Today is another chance.

Every day, you get a new chance. So begin again. |

I love the truth in this: every day is a restart button. Every writing session can be better than I thought.

And why wait for a new day? Why not use every break to reset my thinking? Coming back after a meal, after an errand, after any extended interruption: it's a chance at new words. Better images. Cleaner sentences.

This is an especially good quote for me, since I'm revising one of my manuscripts. And it is all too easy to stare at my old paragraphs and either think: Hey, that's not so bad, I'll leave it, or, Oh my gosh, am I really that bad at this?

Today's my chance to do a little better. To take what was already decent, and turn up the volume, make it shine. To take what was crappy, and make it, well, at least mediocre!

Mediocre? I'm totally joking. Today I'll make it awesome. 

With each new dawn, every writer gets a second chance to write well. -- Eric Maisel

The main task.

The main task.

This comes from Eric Maisel's genius little book, A Writer's Paris. I have maybe read it a dozen times? My book-loving heart feels a thrill whenever I pick it up, because it's the perfect size, well-bound, and gorgeous. It's also packed with brilliant writing advice, and bonus, it feels like a trip to Paris. (Only cheaper.)

We could all do worse than to pick up this book and a croissant and some strong coffee, and then write all afternoon. Hmm. There's an idea.

I love the No matter what-ness of this quote. Regardless of where you are, regardless of the hang-ups. It is all too easy for me to focus on the difficulties, and magnify them until all I see is my inability to work.

How lovely (and freeing!) to flip it, and focus on writing right where I am.

In spite of being tired and confused, in spite of being in suburban Midwest (aka not Paris), in spite of not knowing--ever, it seems--what comes next.

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