“Shitty First Drafts”

I hate drawing in front of others. I hate the “fantasy” onlookers tend to have about creation: that successful creators, whether they are artists or writers or musicians or something else entirely, are successful because creating comes easy for them. As Anne Lamott illustrates in her essay “Shitty First Drafts,” creation is not easy at all, but an intensive process that requires critical revision. When I sit down to start a drawing, I first sketch in rough shapes to represent areas of shadow, blocks of color, or actual features. Every piece starts as a geometric conglomeration before being wrangled into something realistic and pride-inducing. Starting a sketch is equivalent to writing “a shitty first draft.” Lamott argues that to create something, you must first start something.

Her comparison of a first draft to a child’s draft and her fear of someone reading her work before revisions occur resonate with me. She correctly personifies the character of a first draft when she says words “romp” around the page, going from one idea to another with few transitions and little to no coherence. However, students are taught from a very young age to phrase their ideas in a specific, formal way. Allowing our words to explore the page, to just run from the pen, goes completely against formal writing instruction. To become a truly successful writer then, according to Lamott, requires digression back to the mindset of a child before fears of judgement are instilled. There should be no fear in a first draft because, as she articulates three separate times, “no one is going to see it.” That is, no one will see it unless something occurs that prevents you from revising it. This is a fear Lamott experiences in her own life and explores in this essay. In my own writing, even in personal journals, I feel an imaginary presence, the invisible critic of a future audience, staring over my shoulder. To progress as a writer, I need to take a hint from Anne Lamott and just “trust the process.” I need to practice letting my thoughts explode and “romp” freely on the page in order to organize and evolve my ideas. I need to practice writing shitty first drafts. Whether it is in the form of a drawing or a writing, creation is a process. That process begins with a beginning, even if the beginning is a shitty first draft.

(My creative process through drawing.)

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