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Secret Steps (Blog Post #3)

Posted on February 10, 2019

          Writing can be intimidating no matter the format and starting seems impossible. The pressure to choose the best words and have your ideas presented to the audience in the best way possible is daunting. However, drafting first can make it easier to make progress and avoid discouragement. “Shitty First Draft” by Anne Lamott and “The Maker’s Eye” by Donald Murray both discuss the importance of drafting your work before writing the final piece. Each described the first draft as almost an initiation into the writing process, a starting block awaiting improvement.

          Murray took pride in the steps of drafts and revisions he took, claiming that it showed or was learned from experience. Most professionals write drafts knowing that the first time you are writing a piece will not be the best work. Each draft was an opportunity for development and one part of the progress towards a result you can proudly show. “Most productive writers share the feeling that the first draft (and most of those that follow) is an opportunity to discover what they have to say and how they can best say it” (Murray 1). This is a very optimistic way to look at what is clearly not yet your best work.

          Lamott, on the contrary, had a sense of shame for her first draft. She claimed that it was an embarrassing but necessary part of the writing process and prayed that no one would ever see one of hers. The first draft for Lamott was a jumble of her ideas, good and bad, that allowed her to get all her thoughts on the page and see judge what to remove, improve, or include. “There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you must go-but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages” (Lamott 23). Drafting to both of these writers was about discovery and uncovering how to refine their efforts.


The following are strategies for improving your writing:


  1.           View your first draft as an opportunity: A draft can have the ability to show what you should really be writing about. It is your starting block and by re-reading and revising, you can find clarity and purpose in your own work. When starting a piece you may not be exactly sure how you want to execute it, but your drafts can enable you to see what works or does not work towards your goal.
  2. Have a clear subject: Each piece of writing should have a purpose or idea that it is centered around that the writer wants to communicate to the reader. “If the subject is not clear, or if it is not yet limited or defined enough for me to proceed, I step back and try to catch the focus of what I may say in a line that may become a title or the first sentence of the piece” (Murray 2). If you struggle to find a subject or if your subject is not clear, drafts can help you narrow in on what it should be.
  3.           First write everything: It is common to fear that the sentence you think of is not good enough or you’re not sure if something will fit. Still, it is helpful to write everything down. Through this you can have everything in front of you and then you can condense. You can remove everything that you don’t like and improve on whatever you decide is worthy of staying in your writing. Lamott recommends this strategy in her piece reassuring that even if it is terrible, no one else will ever see it.
  4.           Detach from your work: After drafting step back from your writing and try to see it from a separate perspective. Writers should not rely heavily on the opinions of others, for only they truly know their ultimate goal. “They cannot depend on others. They must detach themselves from their own page so they can apply bot their caring and their craft to their own work” (Murray 1). Looking at your work as if it is not your own can help you make more confident and logical decisions.

“Shitty First Draft” by Anne Lamott

“The Maker’s Eye” by Donald Murray

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