The Write Idea


First Drafts

Filed under: Quotes — ljcollins @ 9:53 pm
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Possibly my favorite book on writing is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She’s a big proponent of shitty first drafts and has a wonderful chapter on their importance. (Because, of course, without a shitty first draft there is no possibility of a somewhat better second draft.) Rather than summarize, let me just let Anne speak in her own words.

“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. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?” And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. …

I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago and he looked at me very nicely. At first I thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want. … Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.

A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head.  But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.”


  1. I can’t believe how long I waited to read this book. Isn’t she the best???

    Comment by PJ — 05/17/2010 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  2. I’ve had that book for years and I don’t think I’ve ever read it!

    Since I hate rodents with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns, this would be a great exercise for me. Thanks for the info.

    Now if there was just a way to create more hours in the day so that I could find the TIME to put the rodents in the jar….

    Comment by Doxy — 05/17/2010 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  3. One of my all time favorite books – I also love Operating Instructions. And I love the chapter on Shitty First Drafts. She really massages the tension and warms you up to let it all out with abandon. Love her for that!

    Comment by Kristin — 05/17/2010 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

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