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The Crummy First Draft

Writing is a skill requiring practice, patience and more importantly a plan. This is where Ann Lamott’s guide to writing first drafts come in handy. She offers a funny yet concise process which will help any writer overcome his or her writing hurdles. It all begins with the first draft which she refers to as the child’s draft.

She begins by detailing how she wrote reviews for the California magazine. She jokes about how every review she did caused a few readers to cancel their subscriptions. Her writing process usually took two days. It always began with a visit to the restaurant with her friends and she would write down everything she thought was interesting. She’d then gather her notes the next Monday and start writing a review. A year of writing reviews had not made her immune to the terror she associated with writing. A lead would turn into dreadful sentences which she’d discard and start wishing she had her old job back. She’d then get distracted and when she’d finally settle, a “crummy first draft” would be the result. What followed was uncontrolled typing without feeling. Her lead paragraph would amount to a whole page and she’d get lost in paragraphs describing different birds or food. By the time all this has happened she’d have been writing for way too long to look back. She’d then trust the process and proceed to write long boring paragraphs filled with quotes and black humor.

The next day would bear more promise. She would go through her writing again, making adjustments wherever she could, perhaps a catchy beginning or a funny end. Her work would be complete and after going through it again, she’d mail it in.

In all this Ann Lamott stresses the fact that good writing starts with a horrible first effort. One starts by getting anything on paper, followed by a second draft, then a third and then maybe a final piece can be written. Her most important lesson, however, is to quite the voices in one’s head when writing the first draft. Pick them out one at a time, listen to what they have to say then move forward!

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