This is as bad as it gets

I’ve been paid to write since I was in high school. First, it was copy for a local radio station where I interned during high school. Then it was a college summer internship at the Des Moines Register writing summaries of market research. I moved on to advertising slogans, annual reports, fundraising campaigns, magazine columns, website copy, and keynote speeches. But, even more than writing, I have been paid to edit. Virtual red pen in hand, I have spent many years taking apart other people’s words and ideas and reassembling them. I have corrected grammar and sentence structure. And, have helped people translate the good ideas they have in their head to great thoughts on paper. It’s been very rewarding to hear a client say, “That’s exactly what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t figure out how.”

Rewarding until now. Now, that red pen has become my nemesis!

When I decided to start writing my novel (which by the way has now reached a word count of 33,476 toward my 80,000 word goal) I told myself to “just write, do not edit.” But, the editor in me can hardly stand it. And, to make matters worse, she has befriended my Inner Critic and together they spend a lot of time jumping up and down, holding hands, and yelling, “What you’re writing is total crap!” They even throw in a “You suck!” for good measure every once and a while. By the end of the week they have worn me out.

So, what’s a girl to do? Short of calling Anne Lamott (anybody have her number?) and having her remind me about “Shitty First Drafts” and her belief that perfectionism kills creativity,* that is? I decided the Interwebs would have to do. This morning I Googled, “advice for writers” and came upon this quote from author Robin Stevens:

First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone. Just remember that the first draft is as bad as the book is ever going to be, and if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful.”

(Clearly, she’s British, because she spelled “realize” with a “s,” but I digress.)

I’m thinking of blowing the quote up poster sized and hanging it in my office. Then when my Inner Editor and Inner Critic decide to throw another party, I don’t need to say a word, I can just point at the poster. Condescendingly. Looking over the top of my reading glasses. Shaking my head and maybe uttering a “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

The take-away here is that instead of thinking, “This is so bad” a little twist makes it, “This will never be any worse.” That feels like an upward trajectory to me — and a battle worth fighting.

And, the real kicker? This doesn’t only apply to writing. It applies to everything we do in life. The first time we do anything feels hard and awkward, but if we keep at it, it can only get better.

What would change in your life if you started thinking this way?



*These are references from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life and one of my all-time favorite books on writing. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.