I’ve read lots of books on writing over the years, but I’ve always read them from a teacher’s perspective ie. how can I use these ideas to help improve my student’s writing?  Now that I’ve begun writing, they’ve taken on a whole new meaning.  I have to improve my writing?!?

I haven’t written much in the last week or so due to lack of time and (I’ll admit) commitment.  So last night as I was watching a movie with my son, playing Words with Friends (a highly addictive app for scrabble people like myself), and not writing, I was thinking about why I’ve been avoiding my story.  I like my plot, my characters, my setting, but I don’t really like what I’ve written so far.  I’ve always been a decent writer.  It’s something that has come fairly easily to me.  But my novel is fiction, something I’ve never really tried and fiction is hard.

As I was pondering this, I thought of Annie Lamott’s book Bird by Bird.  It’s one of my favorite texts on writing.  Chapter 3 is titled “Shitty First Drafts” and chapter 4?  “Perfectionism.”  I realized that this is where I am.  I’ve written scenes and even whole chapters, and well, I’ll admit, some of it’s pretty shitty.  I’m not used to writing “shitty.”  And, I don’t really like it.

Apparently, I have to get used to it.  Lamott says, “All good writers write them [shitty first drafts].  This is how they end up with good second drafts, and terrific third drafts.”  I know I’m a good writer in the sense that I can write concise clear sentences, but can I build a story?  That’s a whole different ball game.  I’m not sure why I expected myself to do this really well, my first time.  Thinking about it, it’s a little bit (a lot) ridiculous.

A few years ago, I tried snowboarding.  I’ve been skiing since I was seven, so I didn’t think snow boarding would be that hard.  They both entail coming down a mountain attached to a board, right?  Wrong!  My skiing skills did not transfer even a little bit.  I never got off the bunny hill on the snow board; I was bruised and battered, both physically and mentally, and I gave up.  I have not picked up a snowboard since; instead, I’ve stuck with skiing, something I know how to do really well.  Learning to write fiction has been a little bit the same way.  I think I expected the transfer of my writing skills to a new genre to be a little bit easier . . . or maybe less painful?

I’m not giving up; this is just another mountain to go up, so I can have the fun of cruising down the other side.  But this is the hard part for me.  The initial excitement of this project has worn off a bit, and now I’m really having to work at this.

Annie Lamott’s book goes through the entire writing process.  Her last chapters deal with publication.  I wish I was there, but I’m still at chapter 2.  So, I’ll keep plugging away on my shitty first draft and hopefully, at some point, it will be a “terrific third draft” and worthy of a reader . . . somewhere.