Posted on February 12, 2019
From a young age, I was made well aware that the first draft was never going to be the defining version of a writing piece. “Do you think J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in just one shot?” was always the rebuttal that I was given whenever I questioned teachers’ decisions to make us edit our work over and over again. I was convinced that I was above it all, that I had a naturally-given talent to start writing, never stop, and leave behind a flawless trail of words.
Eight-year old me would have been bewildered if he knew that ten years later, educators would still point to the first draft as a pale imitation of the final product. In Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” and Donald Murray’s “The Maker’s Eye”, both authors detail the struggles they face during the beginning stages of writing. Lamott discusses how the first draft allows her to put all her thoughts out on paper, no matter how ridiculous they may appear to the average eye because there is not a chance that they will remain in the finished product. Both writers talk about how they can often be their own worst enemy. Murray explains how internal voices prevent writers from reaching their full potential, and that those afraid of taking risks write conservatively and often do not let their true voices shine. Lamott admits that in her past, she let her head dominate her writing for the worse.
After reading both essays, it became clearer to me that the mental component of writing is more complicated than meets the eye. A strategy I definitely agree with is Lamott’s advice to just completely free-write unrefined as your first draft. The editing down can be done later, but it is best to just put out all the information your brain is thinking of on paper for future reference. There have been so many times when a brilliant idea pops into my head, but I forget to catalog it on paper. Five minutes later, what once held so much promise has now completely evaporated.
With an essay like the literacy narrative, it is important to build up a strong background so that readers can understand the necessary context behind the story. Murray brings up a good point when he says that “The maker’s eye is never satisfied, for he knows that each word in his copy is tentative. Writing, to the writer, is alive, something that is full of potential and alternative, something that can grow beyond its own dream. The writer reads to discover what he has said-and then to say it better.” Writers might never be fully satisfied, but drafting helps iron out any potential problems that could severely hamper the essay.
Finally, a good strategy for developing writing is to develop a loose structure. While this is difficult in academic essays that require a strict regimen, there is still enough flexibility offered where a writer should just see where the piece takes them rather than attempting to fit a piece into a defined structure. Structured essays have the potential to read mechanically and generically. A writer’s unique voice can get bogged down when they are forced to adhere to a set of standards.