Posted on February 11, 2019
When I started trying to write blog posts, I would get stuck on what the title of the post should be. I spent quite a bit of mental energy trying to find the right grouping of words that would catch the reader’s attention, but not seem too over-the-top; short, but to the point — soon at least half an hour had passed, and I could finally get to typing the actual post. And then I would do the same thing over again with the opening sentence.
Many beginner writers feel the same nonsense obligation to complete their writing, in order from introduction to conclusion, flawlessly. Of course, this leads to excessive mental block, and it may even make you forget all the great ideas you had thought to write about just an hour ago. That being said, it would probably serve us much better to write our thoughts out first without thinking of structure or tone. In “Shitty First Drafts,” Anne Lamott describes the dreaded first draft as more of a messy pool of thoughts and ideas. They don’t necessarily sound good, but at least you have something to work with. According to Lamott, most great writers need to write a bad first draft in order to work upward from there and create better drafts the second and third times. This makes a lot of sense — if you write something bad, now you know how to turn it around to make it good. Donald Murray has a similar but slightly more flexible perspective. In “The Maker’s Eye,” he agrees that multiple revisions are bound to take place, and that they’re actually necessities for good quality, professional writing; however, he still acknowledges that different writers have different styles of doing so. Some people are able to do a lot of rewriting and editing in their minds before they even finish the first draft, while others like to free write and then peruse their work carefully multiple times. The essential idea of reserving more technical aspects of writing for subsequent revisions and starting with simply getting words down on paper makes a lot of sense if we connect it to literacy. When we learned how to speak, we didn’t learn how to say the word “The” first, then how to say any noun, and then a verb, to make a simple sentence. We first learned the words and phrases that resonated the most with our brains. Similarly, when learning to write for the first time, we could have tried to put an idea down on paper, but still wrote backwards letters and misspelled words. We didn’t first develop literacy with structure — it was messy and all over the place, and we learned how to clean it up later on. Writing should feel just as natural.
Reflecting on the writing process helped me to come up with a few tips for a less frustrating writing experience:
1.)Immediately write down any connection, idea, sentence, or thought in a notebook, on your phone, etc. Sometimes, just the act of sitting down and forcing yourself to write can feel too restrictive, and good ideas may come to you when you’re doing simple tasks like cleaning or walking. Don’t lose track of them. Writing is a long process that requires a lot of thought, and sometimes the amount of time we dedicate just to sitting and writing may not be enough to fully develop our message. Take opportunity in your mind when it’s free.
2.)Know your audience. Like Murray said, “The aim of writing is communication, not just self-expression.” Knowing your audience is important to do before you go back to reread and rewrite, because you need to know how to adjust your structure in terms of who you are communicating your message to. You will likely need to implement different technicalities to make the message effective for different audiences.
3.)Take a step back. Once again, I give much credit for this tip to Murray’s ideas about revision. A good writer should keep an open mind to criticism while also doubting it a little. Put your pride aside and take criticisms, as well as praise, into great consideration, but you don’t need to let them define all of your writing (especially the praise). Don’t be afraid to take risks, but take a step back from your writing and realize that this creation you’re so proud of isn’t perfect and still needs work.
4.)Don’t be afraid to share your bad writing with your peers or mentors. Lamott talked about how she would write a shitty first paragraph or draft because “no one would see it anyway.” I think we should show people our writing and ask for their opinions even if it isn’t even close to our best. Let’s not study our writing’s development. We know that professional writers don’t sit down and write perfect works in their first try, so we know that writing an amazing first draft isn’t what makes a good writer. Good writing is about growth.