Essential reading: the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird:
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a professional, writes Lamott, when you first sit down with something new, “We all often feel like we are pulling teeth.”
Yes, agreed the late David Rakoff, “Writing is like pulling teeth…. From my dick.”
In Half Empty, he, too, talks about the necessary pain-in-the-ass of the first draft:
Writing—I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.
Rakoff said writing never got any easier for him. “It still only ever begins badly,” he said.
I re-read these quotes every time I’m in the middle of drafting a new book. And then I remind myself of my own motto: “It doesn’t matter if it’s good right now, it just needs to exist.”
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad life motto, either…