When I took my first college-level English course, my professor had us read “Shitty First Drafts” (from Bird by Bird) by Anne Lamott. The point? Your first draft is supposed to be shitty. It was something I understood on an intellectual level, but never applied to myself.
In fact, I have a long history of ignoring the revision process. It’s the curse of having your half-hearted writing attempts exceed the expectations of your teachers. That’s not to say my writing was brilliant. It wasn’t. But when you don’t have to work very hard to get an A, you don’t work very hard.
And to a certain extent, using computers to write has changed the editing process. Being able to edit as you write is not only feasible with a computer, but nearly impossible to resist. (She writes as she edits her own sentence.)
Why would you need to go through the revision process when you can edit as you write?
Because your first draft sucks.
Your first draft always sucks. Your suck may be enough to score an A on your paper. But that’s not really the goal anymore.
Now it’s about landing clients and winning fans or getting five-star reviews.
Is your suck good enough to do any of that?
Mine isn’t. I’d guess yours isn’t either, unless you’re a freakin’ writing genius. And guess what: it’s very unlikely you’re a writing genius.
Have I burst your bubble? Good. Now let’s get real about writing and revising.
I used to tell my writing students that a perfect first draft is suspicious. For them, it meant they were plagiarizing, having someone else write their paper, or reusing a friend’s old paper. Because yes, that’s a thing student do.
For you, it means that you’re overestimating your writing abilities. Or that you’re underestimating the revision process. Imagine how much more brilliant your writing could be if you spent some time polishing it. If it’s damn good after the first draft, going through a few revisions is going to make it mind blowing.
Why settle for damn good when you can have mind blowing?
When I began writing with the intent to publish, this lesson hit me hard. Intellectually understanding it and preaching it to my students was one thing. Putting it into practice and embracing it is quite another.
Have you ever tried to embrace the fact that you suck? It’s fucking hard.
But sucking and failing are not synonymous. You can write something that sucks, but not fail at writing. The only time you fail at writing is when you give up and stop.
It’s okay to write something that sucks. Sucky writing is why we have the revision process. You can turn terrible writing into good writing with a little revision.
The completion of a first draft is not the end: it’s a beginning. It’s the time when you throw out your doubts and your hatred for your draft that sucks, and truly dive into your draft. You get to know it. Learn its strengths and weaknesses. Understand its needs and its desires: what it’s trying to communicate.
And is that process easy? Hell no.
The revision process makes us vulnerable. We’re required to face our insecurities that we’re not going to make it or that we’re not good enough. The revision process forces us to admit we’re not perfect.
Admitting you’re not perfect is tough. Fighting your insecurities is even harder.
How many of you are sitting on a piece of writing right now that you’re too afraid to share because what if?
The what-if game is crippling. The revision process is not. Even though, yeah, sometimes revision feels crippling. But it’s not. Being vulnerable and fighting insecurities will pay off in the end; letting the what-if game control your life and writing won’t.
You always have the chance to revise your writing into what it’s meant to be: mind-blowingly awesome.
And you should take that chance. Doesn’t the world deserve to experience your greatness?