Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shitty First (and Second and Third...) Drafts


As a future English educator, I would like to say this: I have now edited this piece 37 times since I wrote my "last" sentence, and it is still, as Hemingway put it so eloquently, shit. So let's get to it. The reading for this week focused on the one ugly, beautiful, irrevocable truth that all writers know deep in their wiry little hearts: when your page is blank, whatever is coming next is going to be the worst thing you've read all day.

I think we've all struggled with that reality at least a few times in our lives. How can we help ourselves? We've been raised through a system that promotes an idea about writing, and that idea is that a good writer writes only in permanent ink. A good writer doesn't have to scratch words out. A good writer never worries that his "backspace" button will break, because goddamn it, he or she never uses it. Think about it. How many timed writing tests do our students have to go through? Does timed writing really promote writing as a process? Does it give us much room to revise, to revisit, to grow?

I'm glad the reading tackled this subject, because it is a relevant one to any and all students of writing (and I would argue that that includes all of us). We need to understand something about writers: "They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the 
snow" (1). And if that is something that professional writers agree on, that is something we must make sure our students understand. They cannot be discouraged from being able to re-do their work. They must comprehend the fact that writing first drafts are more akin to piling up sand for later use than forming a castle.  They must realize, through our insistence, that spilling words onto a page oftentimes looks less like a masterpiece and more like spilled words. If we instill in them this idea, and strip away the fear of that first draft, I believe that they will write. And then we can focus on improvement.


  1. Eric,
    See, this is gives credit to the wonderful insanity that has come to be fondly referred to as...brainstorming. (Dun, dun, DUN!) It can be a scary thing at first. I mean, writing down all the craziness that is going on in your head can be intimidating at times. Let's face it, we all have some insane in the membrane moments. And that is the thing. Students do not seem to see that ALL writers don't just start out writing well. They have to work at it, hard, to make any sense at all. As long as we don't overwhelm them with our brilliance and allow them to make their mistakes, we will be able to teach them. I mean seriously, we can teach them so much better if they realize we are not perfect so they don't have to be. All we can be is better.

  2. I LOVE your expressions and your analogies. I knew all along that you are very poetic, but just I mean.. I loved the sand castle analogy!

    "They must comprehend the fact that writing first drafts are more akin to piling up sand for later use than forming a castle."

    This is just the perfect way to explain what first drafts are supposed to be like and what purpose they serve. I think you just summarized the entire article in a sentence. WOW!