One of my favourite takeaways from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is the importance of writing shitty first drafts–an embarrassing, messy preliminary attempt at something you might have high expectations for:
All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.
It’s a simple process easier said than done. Maybe you get a little inspired and you sit down to write with resolve and… five minutes in you start to fidget hilariously:
There are too many files on my desktop, let me sort through them first.
This lighting feels really weird and sterile. Maybe I should get a new light bulb.
And even when you manage to get past the fidgeting and actually produce something reasonable, you start to think that something is not quite right.
Is this sounding too self-indulgent? Maybe I should take out a few ‘I’s.
Maybe it’s too short, should I make it longer?
But if I add anything else it’s going to be extraneous.
And so on and so on. Another body tossed to the growing pile of drafts sitting in purgatory.
But maybe you sit down tomorrow and it becomes a little easier. You discover that there is a little more space and, instead of cringing at the imperfections, you soften. The important thing is that you started, and starting today makes it easier to start tomorrow.
This idea of shitty first drafts doesn’t stop at writing. There are many things I’m guilty of putting off that would have come into fruition if only I was less afraid of disappointment: like a shitty first homemade butter chicken or a shitty first book.
So this year I’m experimenting with a few strategies for helping me finish my personal projects and getting past shitty first drafts. The idea is to introduce some forcing functions that will (hopefully) prevent me from being stuck in perfectionism hell:
- Setting 1 to 2 goals every week that must be accomplished in less than 10 hours.
- Using Twitter as a to-do list for accountability. You can follow the thread here.
- Setting aside $500 for a Shitty Firsts Fund™ so that I don’t use money as an excuse for not trying something.
We’ll see how this goes. I will report back with the results. In the meantime I would love to hear your ideas for overcoming perfectionism and getting past shitty first drafts.
This concludes my shitty first blog post of 2019 🎉