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Shitty First Drafts, Essay Example

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Essay

The idea that the quality of a written text is immediately apparent after a first draft is a mythology of the writing process. When considering writing precisely as a process, this means that a written text is never static, but always changing. This is the point Anne Lamont endeavors to make, particularly addressing young writers, in her article, which intends to dispel some of the mythology of writing, or in Lamont’s brute words: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous.” (93) Lamont’s fundamental thesis is the following, one that is based on her own personal experience as an author as well as the similar experiences of acquaintances who are also writers: a piece of written work is composed through a process of experimentation, of trial and error, of constant revision and ultimately of uncertainty. Understanding that writing is a process means that the initial text one will write may be radically different than the final version: the point of this process is to take the original written material and then work further with it, constantly shaping it, editing it and transforming it, so as to achieve a quality of work that one is satisfied with.

This is a crucial point, as Lamont notes, in so far as young writers are often mesmerized by writing, essentially holding a falsified image of how the writer goes about his or her work – they do not understand how the final product is arrived at. As Lamont writes, “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.” (93) In other terms, even great writers do not spontaneously surrender to their genius so as to produce their finished products: they are tormented, frustrated, perhaps lacking confidence. Nevertheless, they proceed forward, beginning with an initial draft and developing it forward. The final product is one, in other words, that has been constituted by uncertainty. Hence, Lamont writes that “very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.” (94) The final product in a sense is not pre-planned, but it suddenly arrives – this is the uncertainty of the final product.  The point, therefore, is to understand these difficulties as inherent to the finished product of writing itself. Namely, writing is not an uninterrupted beautiful and spontaneous flow of communication, although this is the ideal goal, but is an arduous labor that takes constant work so as to improve one’s craft and to improve an individual piece, finally, almost serendipitously, arriving at the somewhat magical final product.

The false image of the writer as creative machine without any reservations is what Lamont terms “the fantasy of the uninitiated.” With this term, she refers to those who do not write constantly or who are not “initiated” into the circle of professional writers. Those looking outside in at these writers have various conceptions about their innate talent and genius, as though they could never put a false word to paper. Arguably, such a viewpoint is influenced by Romanticist conceptions of writers and artists in general, who are merely guided by their muse: they are the chosen ones, whereas those who are not writers lack this abundant talent. Lamont in this regard gives the reader of her article sound advice: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.” (95) There is a tremendous difference between having nothing down on paper and having something, although the latter may be at an early stage unsatisfactory. It is nevertheless a beginning and when something is started there is the possibility for subsequent development. When writing is grasped as a process instead of merely the finished product of the final draft, one demythologizes the entire craft and what seems impossible suddenly appears possible.

Works Cited

Lamott, Anne. “Shitty First Drafts.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Ed. by Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 9th ed.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005: 93-96.

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