Anne Lamott recommends tips to improve shitty drafts. Her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life did not suggest deleting my drafts. In fact, she gave me permission to write them. My editor, Debbie Simorte, told me it was a good idea to delete them from my blog, for the same reason spammers give me.
“Your site is rife with errors, Marsha.”
“Thanks so much for that unsolicited comment, Sara Spammer.”
“Sara’s got a point, Marsha.”
“But, Debbie, don’t you think ‘rife’ is harsh?”
“Maybe, but editors look at your site. If editors see a Work in Progress (WIP), see it even has an acronym, they wonder if the rest of the story will be a WIP.”
“I know Anne did not mean for me to publish my drafts. I took notes on her book. Want to read them?”
Sample Lamott’s Humorous Writing Style
“You sit down to write… what you have in mind is…a history of-oh say-say women.
… Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives.
… After a moment I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia, and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer upper, and then my life would be totally great…
Then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia-if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together…”
Anne Lamott’s Tips for Each Stage of Drafts
1. DOWNDRAFT: The First Draft – get it down
- Avoid so much altering in draft three, dental work, by setting your page the way publishers will want it. Practice the following tips.
- double space
- indent paragraphs
- use only one space between sentences instead of the old-fashioned two. The best way to do this is to turn on the little button ¶ that hides in various places depending on what program you use. This magic button shows you how many spaces you have everywhere.
- Automaticity practiced early doesn’t slow down your spontaneity.
- Write out small numbers. Get in the habit while you are writing your first draft.
- Sometimes, you have to draft a new chapter to fill in gaps. Forgive yourself. Remember the new chapter is stage one.
- Clarify. What I realized is that we weave a net when we create fiction characters.
- Authors make assumptions that the reader knows what they know.
- What is in our head may not be on paper. Readers can not make the leaps
- When we edit, we may cut or change connections between characters.
2. UPDRAFT: The Second Draft – fix it up
- Ask someone unfamiliar with your genre to read your draft.
- My husband doesn’t read romances, so I asked him to review my book. His insight astounded me. He said honest things like, “You can’t wrestle a washer full of water. Have her turn off the water like this. Come here, I’ll show you.”
3. DENTAL DRAFT: The Third Draft – check each tooth
- Step three is a job for NEW pair of eyes. A very picky pair. This person finds errors that run between chapters. “Ted is 59 in chapter 2 and 68 in chapter 1.”
- Use an editing program like Grammarly to eliminate passive verbs and redundant words.
- This person edits your draft with a toothpick after Grammarly combs through it. This editor fixes the extra space between sentences, commas on the inside of quotation marks, and misplaced commas in general.
Anne Lamott shows the real side of writing. All writers struggle to get words out the first time. Everyone wants to create masterpieces the first time out, not improve shitty drafts.
A great difference exists between new writers and great writers. Great writers are not married to every word that jumped onto the paper. They know they will have to improve shitty drafts. They mold each sentence to carry more punch. Anne opens her life and shares from the heart to encourage and instruct authors.
Additional Books by Anne Lamott
- Imperfect Birds
- Help, Thanks, Wow, Three Essential Prayers
- Traveling Mercies, Some Thoughts on Faith
- Small Victories, Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace
- Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
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