Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best Writing Advice #3: Embrace your CRAP!

I'm a perfectionist to a fault. I absolutely HATE to make mistakes. From my elementary school days, I wanted to be right the first time. I wanted to earn straight A's in school. B's were depressing. C's unheard of. And I worked really hard to sustain my perfectionism over the years. I've carried that "do it right or die trying" work ethic with me through every assignment, through every degree, through every job, and every undertaking, even into writing.

When I wrote my first book, I was fortnately too stupid, inexperienced, and naive to know that I was writing crap. This blissful ignorance allowed me to finish my first draft in 4 months.

When I was done, you would have thought I'd written the next American classic.

And then came the critiques. O-M-G! You don't know pain until someone hates  your book. And I went through about 30 hours of labor giving birth to my son. That was nothing to compared to the piercing stab in the heart I felt when someone body had the audacity to "diss" my masterpiece.

I never let the criticism stop me from writing or discourage me from my goal of "authordom" but it shifted my perfectionism into 5th gear.

I refused to make a "mistake." So what happened, I finished my first book (which actually was  acquired by a big six publisher), and then went on to write the sequel.

I wrote. Hit a road block. Wrote. Hit a road block. Wrote. Hit a road block....and so on. What a God-awful cycle of uselessness.

Couldn't finish that book for the life of me. I was over two months in and not even close to finishing. With my first book, I was over the half-way mark at that same point.

So, I did what every writer does at this point. Drowned my sorrows in two pints of Ben & Jerry's and a fifth of Grey Goose. Then I took some time to read. Someone, I think Terry McMillan, had actually mentioned the book on her Facebook fan page. She told us aspiring authors to read Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird. A few other writers had recommended it as well, so I decided I'd just read a book on craft.

One chapter in that book saved my entire writing career. "Sh!tty First Drafts."

I started reading and I couldn't believe Ann had given me, Miss Perfectionist, permission to suck! Me? Suck? Really? And it's, like...okay?


Her message was pretty basic, write sh!t so you can finish your first draft. Then go back and clean it up.

I felt liberated. Freed. It didn't have to perfect on the first go 'round. And I have to tell you. I've learned more lessons on the writing craft from my rewrites than I EVER learned from writing a first draft.

So, now I offer the same advice to you. Embrace your crap! It's okay to write a sh!tty first draft. And it's actually, it's okay to write a sh!tty second draft. As I learned while writing my latest release, your 5th and 6th drafts can be pretty crappy too (although they should be better than the first). The point, my darlings, is to get the FINAL draft right...and learn everything you can to become a better writer along the way.

Have you learned to embrace your crap?

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