Thursday, July 22, 2010

Please, do not be shocked.

I am not perfect.

I know, I know.  Take a second to breathe.  This was most evident to me last night when I (get ready for it...) LOST at Scrabble to my wife.

For the first time.

In 10 years of marriage.

She was busting out triple word scores on words like freakin' quay.  QUAY.  Who even KNOWS that word?  And why in the hell is the letter 'Q' worth 10 points?  I'm pretty certain that, despite my obvious religious connections, my wife has been associating with the devil.  That, of course, is the only explanation.

Okay.  So I'm not perfect. It's going to be a hard transition for all of us.

Luckily, I've been reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird*

And you know what?  Every draft I've been working on lately has suffered from the sin of perfectionism.  I thought I was doing myself a favor, working slow - methodically, even - plodding away word by word, trying to put down words that would make my agent, your mom and, eventually, an editor say something like, "Oh, Bryan!  Joyous!  Inspired!  Prophetic!"  And I'd be sitting there smiling all coyly. (13 point word alert...)  Then I'd say, "Oh, you know.  I just sat down and wrote a bit."

I was pretty sure all that was going to happen.  Because I had a plan.  Better yet, I had an outline.  And I was damn sure that I wouldn't be able to (let alone need to...) revise any chapters because their beauty would be so Awesome, I'd weep.**

I bet you know how this ends.

Yes, I am currently writing the best novel in the history of the universe.  It will make you laugh.  It will make you cry.  And above all... it is PERFECT.  (And if you believe this, I'd like you to go back and read this post and take me at my word...)

No.  Everything I was writing was awful.  I hated it.  It felt flat and adult.  It was pre-meditated.  To put it in literary terms: it sucked donkey butt.

What brought me to this place was the desire NOT to have to revise endlessly.  To write something that was focused from the beginning.  I didn't want to start off another book with what Lamott calls a 'Shitty First Draft.'

Well, sorry.  Because it seems like there is no other way, is there?  Because no matter how much you plan, your story will always change.  And more than change - it will get better.

So what is my problem?!

I am a writer.  Strike that.  I am a self concious, anxious, unable to shake the feeling that I'm a fraud-writer.  (Wait... there isn't a different type, right?)  I was trying to be safe, to make sure that I wouldn't mess anything up.

Good plan.  For me (and Lamott echoes this), just sitting down to write has been the joy.  That's where the spark comes from.  It's how the ideas pop out of nowhere, or a killer phrase jumps from some place deep inside my brain.  Almost every funny part of my book has come from me sitting, riffing with my characters.  Not with an outline.

I leave you with this wisdom:

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die.  The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while their doing it.  - Bird by Bird, 28

So, go.  Run.***

*Transition, For the Win.
**In a manly, literary way.
*** That was deep, wasn't it?


  1. You eloquently mirror my post from the other day. Well said.

  2. Phew. And I thought that my shitty first draft was sign of a big character flaw. :)

    I love this post. It's for anyone who has spent over a year revising, and who has pledged to never do it that way again.

    Pledged to write a better first draft.

    And then realized that all the gold happened after she jumped the shark in her draft. That all those wrong turns illuminated the right ones.

    as always, thanks!

  3. Did the same thing for about eight months. Learned the same lesson you have. And I'd already read Bird by Bird, which goes to show you I either thought I was smarter than LaMott or I just forgot everything I read and I'm stupid.

  4. I love that quote and may need to put it somewhere I can see it whilst writing. I tend to get caught short about twenty-thousand words from the end (roughly just before the final climax) and freeze up for a month or more before finally settling in and finishing it. And it's fear of botching it that does it every time.

  5. ha. hahaha. I've been revising my shitty first draft (that I took eight months writing in order to get it perfect) for almost two years, and now I'm revising again for my editor--and from the sounds of it, what I have right now is a Shitty Nineteenth Draft. I apparently excel at...shitty. :P

  6. This is why I just rack up the word counts, and then cut them into shape later.

    I'm a sculptor, in another life, and I approach my writing the same way I do working in clay. First I build up a huge, lumpy, crude form, then I cut and trim it into something beautiful. Well, competent... well...recognizable.

  7. I used quay and got 48 pts. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Bird by Bird is, hands down, my favorite book on writing. She is a genius, isn't she?

    I haven't read it since 1999. I do believe I'm due for a re-read.

  9. You're funny ... but that was very well said.

  10. Hi Bryan
    I enjoyed reading your post.
    Good luck with the re-edit.
    Le Rejectionist says above all to be confident - the image of confidence will have to do. ;)

  11. I feel reponsible for encouraging you to use an outline. You can send me a bill or something.