I’ve been teaching creative writing in various settings since 1977, and in that time I have worked with all kinds of students—those with a lot of experience and those just starting to think they might have something to say.
One of the most common things I see that stops us (and I include myself as a writer) is that we think the writing is supposed to be good, fully realized, maybe even brilliant, right away. We look to our fledging effort, our first sentence or our first draft, hoping that our ego will be gratified. If we find fault with this tentative beginning, many give up.
The truth is, it is the job of our first draft to be insufficient. Ideas need to figure themselves out, the music in the work needs to hear itself, we dig down and then need to dig deeper. Writing is a process and it gets better every time we return to it.
When an infant is just born, we don’t expect it to have perfect manners or mastery. The baby needs to stumble around, try things out, learn things and over time develop into a person.=
A work of writing too needs to be given time to grow, to change, to find itself. Let your writing be as “bad” as it needs to be to get born (sometimes I have to tell myself, “I’m going to write the shittiest first draft* anyone has ever seen”) and then you have something to work on.
* Anne Lamott talks about the “shitty first draft” in her book about writing, Bird by Bird.
Text by Terry Wolverton
Photo by Yvonne M. Estrada
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