Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something- anything – down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. – Anne Lamott
I have been writing less this year than I have in the last four years. The main reason for this is that I’m doing more research and reading and that leaves less time for writing. I’m also less sure what to write as the more you look into something the more you realise that there are many different ways to see and appreciate and understand what is going on and it all gets a little messy on paper. Clear, simple writing may read well – but it sometimes does not reflect reality.
The other, smaller reason, is that I’m also trying to draft content for a PhD thesis and that’s slowing me down – I haven’t written stuff like that before and I don’t quite know what to do.
One approach that I’m trying is to do something, anything, that gets me going. So rather than typing on the computer, which is the easiest way to get material out, I have a composition notebook and am drafting by hand. I’ve tried it for a couple of days and the material is starting to trickle out. Each page holds around 200 words and so at the rate of two pages a day it’s going to take 250 days or most of a year to get a first draft written.
Anne Lamott’s theory, in her book Bird by Bird, is that you should just sit down and write two pages a day. She calls it a shitty first draft and some people take issue with that – just call it a first draft they say, something you will revise and improve when you do the next round of edits. Writing is revising after all, they argue.
Many writers would agree with this. William Zinsser in On writing well, John McPhee in Draft No. 4 and Natalie Goldberg in Writing down the bones, all write about the practice and effort that goes into writing. The quotes roll on, from Gene Fowler, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead”.
The secret to writing was revealed by Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
I’ll let you know how I get on.