Shitty First Draft

“I would love for this draft to be shitty”… said just about nobody ever.

No matter the topic or length or intention for the piece, writing begins with a first draft that usually leaves much to be desired. But it is this first draft that is the most important, for, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” (Bird by Bird). Writing is one of those things that is really fun when everything is going well, but instantly becomes a miserable experience when faced with a speed bump in the road. Writing begins with a simple idea that slowly grows throughout the writing process. As more time is spent with it and more attention is given, the piece takes on a personality of its own, almost as if it were a living entity itself. And eventually it matures into a gorgeous masterpiece.

Anne Lamott is a writer and novelist, and in her book Bird by Bird she describes the need for what she refers to as “shitty first drafts”. Below is an excerpt from that book.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

~Anne Lamott  

(Bird by Bird

Down drafts, up drafts, dental drafts – sounds like a blast. And maybe that’s the key to writing, that it’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s difficult, messy, aggravating, frustrating, plus whatever four letter word you would like to insert. But it’s important. It’s important to write and it’s important to be able to write well.

Although not using the exact same words, my social studies teacher from high school would refer to first drafts as letting your brain throw up. It’s a strange concept to realize, but at least in my experience the best ideas, the most perfect sentences and eloquent words, have come from simply letting my brain throw up on the paper and then searching for those precious gems in all the vomit, as opposed to not putting anything down on paper and hoping that the gems will reveal themselves on their own.

In the book Lamott also mentions how even great writers have to go through the pain of first drafts. For me personally, when I think of great writers I automatically think of J.K. Rowling (through seven books, the woman created a world of magic that influenced an entire generation). And imagining Rowling having to throw up on her paper or having to reshape an entire chapter or even having an editor mark up her manuscript with blood red ink (gasp!), sort of makes me smile a bit. If great writers didn’t have to go through first drafts, then Rowling would be able to sit down, write a book, then send it straight to the printers, no questions asked. And I think even those most envious of the women’s talents knows that that’s not how things work.

Now granted, her first draft may be a lot better than your first draft. To you her first draft may even look like a perfect first draft. But it’s still a shitty first draft at the end of the day. If shitty first drafts are just a thing of life, then being a good writer, even a great writer, is not about being immune to those shitty first drafts, but rather being able to make those first drafts a little less shittier.

How a draft goes from a pile of shit to a hanging Picasso is different for every piece you’ll ever write – an individual will never go through the writing process exactly the same way twice. It could take weeks to edit the paper you write for class while the article you write for the school’s paper could take a matter of hours to fine tune.

Something I’ve learned about writing is that part of being a great writer is simply respecting the writing process itself. That includes acknowledging that writing takes time, not becoming defeated when the piece isn’t as good as hoped for, being open to criticism during edits even when convinced that the piece is perfect, accepting the fact that sometimes the best thing to do is to spend some time away from it all, and yes, understanding the importance of first drafts.

In short, let the first draft be shitty and trust that the writing process will guide you through the rest.

…………..

This post was partly inspired by a professor at my school who uses Lamott’s “shitty first draft” concept in her teachings (which is where I first learned about Lamott). A previous post, In The Face Of Shit, was a piece written for the writing portfolio my school requires all students to turn in and this professor just so happens to be in charge of helping students pass that portfolio.

When this semester began I told her I wanted to write my piece on Death of A Salesman. On Monday of the fifth week into the semester, I told her, fully aware of submission being due on Friday of that same week, that I hated my paper and didn’t want to write about Death of A Salesman anymore. I think most people, including myself at the time, would have had a near heart attack when facing the possibility of scrapping an entire paper that had been developing for over a month, and needed to be completed by the end of the week. When I told the professor, she responded without any hesitation or uncertainty with, “Sure. What do you want to write about instead?”.

Two things dawned on me at that moment:

1) No matter how far a piece has come or what has gone into it, the piece will never be the best it can be if the person holding the pen doesn’t like what they’re writing about. Never be afraid to completely tear down a paper and start from scratch again. It’ll get there in the end but it has to start from a good place – that good place being the motivated mindset of the writer.

2) Getting students to pass the portfolio is a high priority for this professor, but a priority that is equally as important to her, perhaps even more important, is giving students the chance to simply write about something they enjoy. And if that doesn’t make for an A-class writing professor, I don’t know what does.

_________________________________________________________________

Housekeeping Note: In case you’re wondering, the idea for In The Face Of Shit came in a random moment while I was watching clips from SNL (I guess Melissa McCarthy has a special way of inspiring people), and the entire paper was written in twelve hours before the deadline. In essence, a thirteen page paper that had been scrutinized over for nearly five weeks was beaten out by a six page paper written on a whim and a lot of coffee. Writing can be a funny thing sometimes.

Findley Lake, New York

Don’t worry, be happy because it’s a new year.

Advice for 2017:

“Don’t look back..you’re not going that way!”

~Mrs. Kasha Davis

(@KashaDavis Twitter)

Hope you all had a great New Years Eve and are ready to have a fantastic 2017.

Photos are from around Findley Lake, New York.

12-29-16-912-29-16-612-29-16-412-29-16-812-29-16-212-29-16-7

_________________________________________________________________

If you enjoyed check out my Photo Gallery as well as my Instagram (@captain_hails) for more photography content.

Raise Your Hand

Hey guys. I hope you are all winding down for the Holidays and are keeping warm. These last 3 weeks for me have been my last weeks of the semester so got a bit hectic, but I am now back in Cleveland for Winter Break.

I wanted to do one more post for the year pertaining to something a professor said this semester. This professor is like one of those flat-out awesomely amazing people. Very chill and laid back, but passionate and energetic when it comes to his field of study, as well as teaching students.

In his class he makes participation mandatory. It’s a cool 5% of one’s grade. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but just for reference let’s say there are 100 points in the entire class. If you did not participate at all and get 0 points for participation, that means even if you get every other point in the class, the highest grade you could earn is a 95% (95 out of 100 points). Factor in the reality of missing at least some of the other points, you could lose at most 2 points (93 out of 100 points) in order to earn an A in the class. Any more points lost, assuming you’re choosing to forgo the participation points, would earn at best an A- for the class.

Point in case, just participate for a free 5%.

Participation is really easy for some, but not all. I think there are two kinds of non-participatory students, those who don’t care to participate, and those who are truly too shy to participate. Concerning the first type who don’t care about participating, sorry but I got nothing for ya. Just participate if nothing else for the free points.

Now moving onto the second type – if you don’t participate in class because you are truly too shy to raise your hand I would like to pass along what this professor said to us this semester.

While responding to a student who really did not like speaking in class and felt it unfair that part of their grade was based on in-class participation, this professor responded to them with,

“Let me lay all the cards out on the table. I don’t make you participate in class because I want to see if you know the answer; if I wanted to do that, I would just give you an exam. I do it because in this world nobody will ever ask you to raise your hand, nobody will require you to voice your opinions or thoughts. It will be entirely up to you to choose whether or not to do so. And I want you to choose to do so. Believe me, there will be times in your life, both professionally and personally, in which staying silent will not be an option. Consider this class a test run for those times.

My school is considered a liberal arts school and its selling pitch is partly laid in the promise that, “Graduates will be able to effectively communicate with others in the workplace.”

In ten seconds this professor had summed up the importance of communicating, how communication is a life skill rather than a job skill, and how whether you realize it or not, professors have a method to their madness.

I’m sure not all professors think this deeply about their mandatory participation, but this one did.

And perhaps there’s something to it.

_________________________________________________________________

Housekeeping Note: I think I got this from my mom at some point, but it was a “9 Things Awesome People  Do” article and one of this things was, to take a stand not because you think you’re right, but because you’re not afraid to be wrong. Of all the things in this world to be afraid of, being wrong falls way down on the list.

Image Source: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/05/why-powerpoint-should-be-banned-in-lectures/

Our Only Job

Barilla US has recently done a series called While the Water Boils. It’s a series of short interviews moderated by YouTuber Hannah Hart, in which individuals from a diverse range of fields talk about how they got into their field and their passion for what they do.

I encourage you to check it out – it’s a cool series and each interview is short and sweet.

A link to the series on YouTube is linked below.

 

There’s an interview with Theo Rossi, and in the interview he says something that really struck me. He said,

The only job we have as human beings is to be better than we were yesterday. That’s it. That’s truly our only job.

~ Theo Rossi

(As the Water Boils)

With that said, I encourage you all to be better than you were yesterday.

_________________________________________________________________

Housekeeping Note: To all those celebrating Yom Kippur, I wish you an easy fast and a happy and healthy new year.

Home

8.26.16.6 (1 of 1)

This is a picture of the ceiling of the hallway that adjoins the campus library and the Center for Global Education at my school. Whenever I pass by here it amazes and humbles me to realize that,

Every place is somebody’s home. 

~ Hailey Hoyat

And that thought also reminds me to always be respectful of my surroundings because every place I go, is a place that somebody calls home.

 

15 Years Later

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack that destroyed the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. My twitter feed was filled with many people remembering the event and paying their respects to those who passed that day.

This tweet in particular really struck me and I wanted to share it because it goes beyond the surface level of what happened on that day.

I hope you appreciate the tweet and I hope it gives you a bit wider perspective on things; it certainly did for me.

capture

Screen Capture from Twitter Feed of Hailey Hoyat

DON’T PANIC

One of the projects that I’m working on at my internship is a bird banding project.

Basically it consists of me, Courtney, Adam, and the community bird bander Al, waking up every Thursday morning before sunrise to set up mist nets and banding birds for the next six hours.

If you have more questions about bird banding, check out pHoto pHriday (Week #2) for a more descriptive overview as to what exactly bird banding is.

When we initially went to Al’s house to see bird banding for the first time we went there to watch him band because bird banding does actually require training and certification, so at the time Courtney and I were not able to do anything but watch.

(Adam also has certification for bird banding so he was able to assist Al that day).

But as this project developed, it became clear that Courtney and I would have to learn bird banding, all the way from setting up the nets to taking down the nets six hours later and everything in between. Otherwise it would be six hours of us watching Adam and Al do everything.

So Al taught us how to set up the nets and how to grab hold of the bird from the bag it was in and how to process information about the bird and how to release the bird and every little thing a bird banding session entails.

Let me take the time to go on the record in bold faced, highlighted, italicized font, to say that bird banding is not easy. There is a reason why certification is required. If you ever see somebody bird banding, have mad respect for them and if you ever get the opportunity to try bird banding, take it. It’s an experience many people don’t get to have.

Bird banding, since your working with multiple live animals at once, can be a very fragile process and one wrong move could result in a bird escaping, a mist net being destroyed, or worse case scenario, a bird being harmed.

(By the way, mist nets are about $100 each).

While working with Al, whenever we got stuck on something, like putting up a net or holding a bird, he would always say,

“Don’t panic.”

~ Al Eibel

I think that’s sort of just his saying but I’ve come to really enjoy it.

And I think I like it because it genuinely is a good piece of advice whenever anything goes wrong.

Like when you forget the amusement park ticket at home but you’ve already arrived at the park or when the airplane you’re on has taken off and you realize you’ve left your cell phone charging in the terminal.

Anyway, I don’t mean to over-analyze it, but generally speaking, don’t panic because if you’re panicking you’re not thinking.

_________________________________________________________________

Housekeeping Note: Extra credit for anybody who can tell me in the comments below as to what book is closely associated with the phrase “DON’T PANIC”. The answer will be in the Housekeeping Note of next week’s post.

Hint: The book is a type of guide book.

Also, a new secret project has been revealed on the Secret Projects page. Check it out, linked below.

Secret Project #081216

Madame Florence

MadameFlorence.1

Photo By Jeff Goldberg

You may have already seen the coming attractions for the movie Madame Florence which is set to come out in August in the U.S. (already came out in the U.K. sometime in May). It’s a movie starring Meryl Streep as the boisterous and overly confident Florence Foster Jenkins who dreamed of being an opera singer. However her voice was amateur at best and was met with much criticism and ridicule.

But she did it. And she eventually even made it to perform at Carnegie Hall. She continued to sing and perform because,

“People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

~Florence Foster Jenkins

(1868 – 1944)

_________________________________________________________________

Housekeeping Note: Meryl Streep is perhaps one of my top 3 favorite actresses of all time. The woman can film a comedy in the morning, take her lunch break, and then turn around to play the Iron Lady for the afternoon.