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hemingway

"All first drafts are shit."

Ernest Hemingway

I am a perfectionist. Full of paralyzing pride. I like to do things well, and right. Quite often, this perfectionism serves me splendidly. There's nothing wrong with having sky-high standards, right?

Wrong.

Particularly when it comes to writing. As I have mentioned, I am in the process of writing my second novel. And, depending on the moment, my fingers are flying fabulously or I am having a hard time. In these difficult moments, I am getting stalled and stuck and stranded. And I think I know why.

I want exquisite prose and deft dialogue to tumble out of me. I want my ideas to be crisp and spicy, full of authentic and existential bite. I want my story to take shape like a famous statue. Right away.

Ha.

Thankfully, I have a good memory. I recall Life After Yes's infancy. That famous first draft. It was utter and unequivocal crap, a big clumsy pile of paper riddled with inconsistencies and holes and nonsense. It was embarrassingly bad. But, you know what?

It was also a start. The start.

I shaped that pile of paper, that stream of words, into something better. And then? I shaped that something better into something even tighter. I did this over and over again, working hard, having fun, chipping away, adding, reinventing. And one day? One day, I had something that was okay. And then one day I had something that was good. And one magical day that good thing was really good. And then great. (Hey, I am biased. I wrote the thing.)

It is so helpful for me to remember this. That this writing thing is a process. It is so helpful for me to read Hemingway's words. And I am not a fan of profanity but I make an exception here because, well, first drafts are shit. They just are. And an important and subtle distinction must be made. That distinction? First drafts are perhaps meant to be shit. This has nothing to do with experience, with rookie-dom. This is the way it should, perhaps must, be every time. Writing a first draft is an inherently messy endeavor; we are spilling shreds of self and story onto page, gathering bits of imagination and invention, collecting ingredients for what might become something wonderful.

But not yet.

So, on this fine Thursday morning, I want to thank Mr. Hemingway for his sage words and reminder to just write and write and write some more. To spew shit. The good kind. There is plenty of time to clean up later.

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  • Do you agree with Hemingway that first drafts are meant to be mangled and messy things?
  • Are you a perfectionist too? Does this help or hinder you more in your life?
  • Do you spend more time writing or editing?
  • Do you agree that there is wisdom in Hemingway's words not just for the writer, but for the person? That, so often in life, we should just stop worrying and act and then edit the drafts of days later?
  • Would you be suspicious of someone who claimed her first drafts were marvelous? (I would.)

I Am a Woman. And I Write Fiction. (Uh Oh?)

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