Monday, September 24, 2012

Yes, you CAN polish a turd!

There probably isn't a writer out there who hasn't by now heard (or read) Anne Lamott's advice on allowing yourself to write shitty first drafts. But in case you haven't, here are a couple of quotes from her book Bird by Bird:

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts."

~Anne Lamott

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

~Anne Lamott

Now, I have to admit, when I first read Ms. Lamott's views on shitty first drafts I was a little skeptical. I understood what she meant--how paralyzing perfectionism can be, how fearing that what we spit out onto the page isn't good enough keeps us from writing anything at all, yadda-yadda-yadda.

But a niggling little part of me thought that if you start with shit, no matter what you do with it, it's still going to stink.

Until, that is,  I happened upon an episode of Mythbusters that changed my whole perception of "shit." Apparently, shit is just another malleable substance that can be elevated beyond its humble origins.

The next time you look at the first (or second or third) draft of whatever you're writing and think, this is utter shit, remember--it is possible to polish a turd. 

I know this for a scientific fact, because Adam and Jamie proved it on Mythbusters:

So just keep polishing.

Come on, everybody, shout it with me (and Anne and Adam and Jamie)!

"Bird by bird, polish that turd!" 

Or, if you remain skeptical, at least remind yourself that a fertile imagination is a prerequisite for a good writer. Polished or not, shit is a great fertilizer.

And if you still can't stand the thought of writing a shitty first draft, think of it instead as preparing the soil in which you're going to plant the seeds of your brilliance. ;)

What's your take on first drafts? Just how shitty can you stand them? 

Bonus Question: Did I squeeze the word "shitty" into this post enough times?

Bonus-Bonus Question: Should I have substituted another word for "shitty"? Maybe "crappy," or perhaps "shizzle-y"? *

* I thought about it, but ultimately decided if it was good enough for Anne, it's good enough for me.


Unknown said...

My problem isn't that I write crappy drafts (I do) but that I fail over and over with editing any of them. Which means I no longer dare to write the drafts either because it feels like I waste the story on my own inexistant talent.

Perry Block said...

Yes, you can polish a turd?

I never knew I could feel so uniquely elevated for a Monday morning.

For me, it's off to write iambic pentameter. Thank you, Linda!

Patty Blount said...

Linda, you made Monday shitty and I mean that in the best possible way!

Kimberly Sabatini said...

I second Patty! LOL!

Kerry Schafer said...

This may be the best thing to ever happen on a Monday morning. Although, it may interfere with writing, as I find myself wanting to make a mud ball now. As for the shit? I'll save the polishing of that for the writing.

abby mumford said...

this is now how i expected my monday morning to go, but hey, i'm on board. sh!tty first drafts FTW. and linda's humor FTW.

Summer Frey said...

I generally try to make an effort on my first drafts, but they still reek of fecal stench and require many long months of disimpacting. :D (Side note: I almost had to disimpact my first bowel over the summer. Funny how nurses like to make the extern do the nasty stuff. I think I'll stick to novels as long as I can.)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I LOVE this post. Only you, Linda, could take shit and turn it into a funny... and informative!... post.

Anne Gallagher said...

Love this title. And as for first drafts, mine generally are poop filled to the max. (You forgot about POOP for the bonus question.)

S.P. Bowers said...

I thought of that episode of Mythbusters when I read the title of your post. And can I say that episode grossed me out. Ewww.

LD Masterson said...

My beginnings are always shitty. What trips me up is the need to go back and start cleaning before I move forward (getting the rest of the shit out there).

Karen Jones Gowen said...

That's the policy I follow on first drafts, too!

S.P. Bowers said...

I blogged about your book today. Hope that's ok.


Bwahahahahaha! I love that we blogged about the same thing today, right down to the crap metaphor. Great minds, eh?


Linda G. said...

Malin -- Don't give up! It's like riding horses. You have to fall off a lot before you can call yourself a rider. :)

Perry -- Glad to give you a lift. ;)

Patty -- LOL! Why, thank you. ;)

K-pop -- Thank you, too. ;)

Kerry -- Yup. Save the shit for the writing. know what I mean.

Abby -- Yay! Go, Abby! :)

Summer -- Eeeew. Nurses must have strong stomachs, is all I can say.

Susan -- Aw, thanks. I think. ;)

Anne -- *slaps forehead* POOP! Why didn't I think of that?

S.P. -- Yeah, that episode made me really grateful there's no such thing as smellavision. ;)

LD -- Yeah, that's my problem, too. I always want to walk behind the horses with a broom in the great big writing parade.

Karen -- Good policy, for the most part, I think. :)

S.P. -- Absolutely! And thanks. :)

Linda G. said...

Tawna -- Makes one wonder, huh? Guess we both had our minds in the sewer today. ;)

Unknown said...

ahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaha! *snork* ahahahahahahahahahahahah

*clears throat*

ahem. as i was about to say before some lunatic interrupted me with all that maniac laughter was...

you crack my shitty shit up.

(was that enough shit/shitties in the response for you, or should I keep going?)

Linda G. said...

Karla -- I dunnoh. I bet you could squeeze a few more out if you tried... *wicked grin*

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Believe it or not, I really needed this advice right now. Because I have a short story to write that has been interrupted so many times by other projects that took priority, I'm afraid it really is, you know, a turd.

But a blank paper is even worse to work with.

I just need to bite the bullet, finish the draft, and then find a way to make it beautiful.

Linda G. said...

Dianne -- I'm sure it's already starting to gleam. Just keep polishing! :)

Raley Blue said...

Oh, this did not dissapoint!! This is quite possibly the best blog post I have ever read. And I've read a lot of shit. ;)

Linda G. said...

Aurelia -- LOL! Me, too. ;)

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

Thank you so much for not using the word shizzle-y.
My thoughts on shitty first drafts is that they are a necessity. At least, for me.

Diane Henders said...

Great shitty post! Now my question is: Have you found a way to pick up a turd by the clean end?

(From the definition of political correctness: The belief that it is in fact possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.)

Al said...

Mine first drafts can be pretty bad. The second draft then becomes more of a rewrite.
I reckon if you'd tried you could have managed to squeeze it in a few more times.

Delia said...

This is good to know, because I have a hot one crudding up my screen right this second. *picks up polishing cloth* Wish me luck.

Jessica Lemmon said...

Hahahahahaa hahahahahaa!!! Love this! Actually, I'm in the middle of the shit now...but trying to convince myself that it WILL be better later and my life as a fledgling author is not going to crumble under the weight of this horrific MS!!! *sob*

...anyway...I LOVE YOUR BLOG HEADER!!! :-D <3

Linda G. said...

JJJ -- You're welcome. *grin* And I suspect most first drafts are largely comprised of fertilizer.

Diane -- LOL! Love that definition!

Al -- As are all of ours, I suspect.

Delia -- Ha! Happy polishing. Um, don't forget your gloves... ;)

Jessica -- Grab a handful and start polishing! Re the blog header: just a little something I had a very talent graphic artist come up with for me. ;)

Julie Flanders said...

Oh, this cracked me up! Thanks for the laugh. :D I will think of this when I'm struggling through my totally shizzle-y (just for variety LOL) later tonight!

I do love Bird by Bird, one of my fave books ever.

Linda G. said...

Julie -- It's a great book. Good luck with your, um, shizzle. ;)

Jennifer Shirk said...

THAT was funny and a bit gross. LOL

My first drafts usually are pretty good. But lately, I've been letting myself write crappier ones just so I can write a little faster.