Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Silver Lining of Adversity and The First Draft

A few years ago I tweaked by back and every now and then it likes to remind me of this fact. About two weeks ago, my back felt it was time for a reminder call. Long story short, I hit the ground in my back yard and couldn't get back up.

Thank goodness I had my cell phone this time. The first time this happened, ironically in the exact same place, I was without communication and a real miracle occurred to get me into the house. A story for another day, maybe.

After freezing for twenty minutes I figured I wasn't getting back up anytime soon, so I called my boss and told him I wasn't going to get in to work. After hanging up I posted a plea for help on Facebook. Within five minutes I had two people over helping me into my house, giving me pain killers, and getting me back on the road to recovery.

I took two days off work to get back on my feet, literally. This left me time to read. Yes, the silver linings promised in the title! I got to sit around and read. A lot. Oh, I miss being able to do that. I loved it.

I was challenged to read 100 books in the year 2013 and it got me a little curious as to how many I've read this year. The count as of this morning? 73!! And laying around more than usual over the last two weeks certainly helped boost that number.

One topic I've read plenty on is on writing. I've had something drilled into me from several of these books: the need to get that first draft on paper. Let me back up a little bit.

I have a friend, Jessica Foster, who I've gotten to know better at the last two LDStoryMaker Conferences. At the last one I told her how I struggled with my writing because I would write something and then fix it. When I wanted to write a little more, my mind would say, "No wait. I think you could do better." Then I'd edit some more. Progress was very, very slow.

Jessica is pretty amazing because she really knows how to write. And write fast. So she shared her secret: when she writes she turns off her monitor so she doesn't see her mistakes, which allows her write nonstop. I primarily write on a laptop so turning off the screen is not an option, but throwing a towel over the screen should accomplish the same thing.

Three books I've recently read have hammered that idea home even more for me. Stephen King's writing memoir, On Writing, said he write in two modes. He first writes with the door closed, then he edits with the door open. In other words, he first writes for himself without a care of what others might think when they read it. I imagine that he does this very fast. Then he opens his door and edits, making changes that he thinks his readers -- and primarily his ideal reader -- would like.

Then I read Ken Rand's short book called The 10% Solution. He explained that writing is very right brained and editing is very left brained, and when you try to do both at the same time they often conflict with each other, slowing down the writing process. When he writes, he puts on his "writing hat" and does exactly that. Write. And only that. No editing. Afterwards, he puts on his "editing hat" and fixed it to where he needs it to be.

Now I'm in the middle of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She says that she always writes a -- to paraphrase and keep this PG rated -- crappy first draft. She assures that 1) almost every writer does this and 2) nobody is obligated to share this draft with anybody. Amazingly, both these statements are something I needed to hear. Well, read.

When I wrote my last book I followed the writing without editing philosophy. In less than a week I had written THE END. It was horrendous!!! I wrote 70% of it in present tense when it should have been primarily in past tense. I had misspellings. Some things I couldn't even figure out what I was trying to say. There were several parts where I just wrote something like, "Write about this topic here" because it involved research and I didn't want the research to slow me down.

And, you know what, I don't care.

I've gone through a few more drafts and I think it is very close to my final draft now. I've finished the research I needed to do. As Anne Lamott said, nobody has seen my first draft, thank goodness. The hardest part of writing, for me anyway, is getting that first draft written and that actually got done in a short amount of time. Yes, I spent a long of time editing, but I'm still further along than if I continued trying to make my first draft perfect. I'd still be working on that first draft now.

I'm not perfect with this. I think I'm going to continue to struggle, but I must admit that I'm doing better. So, with that, I challenge you all to get out there and don't be afraid to write those crappy first drafts!


  1. Great book recommendations. I don't think I've read any books on writing in a very long time.

    I also don't write "drafts" anymore; I need to get back on that. Thanks for inviting me to read and comment!

  2. Interesting. I do everything as a draft. From the heart, pure and uncensored. It may not be ideal, heck not even right but the rawness seems to help get things out with a purity that over thinking tends to destroy. Thanks for the reading tips, getting them all right now for my kindle!

  3. Wow,thanks for the information. I just wrote 50,000 words for a book project. I started trying to edit while writing. It doesn't work. I will look into the books you recommended.

  4. I'm glad you're back on your feet again James.

  5. Hi, James

    Interesting post ...

    1) I have had back problems and even surgery. I have been in that "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" state and it is not enjoyable in any sense of the word.

    2) I'm impressed with how social media and our vitural world changes the parameters ... now if you had only snapped a quick picture and pinned it or posted on Instagram while you were lying there:)

    3) This notion of writing without regard for errors intrigues me. I have that same issue with wanting to fix things... which is both a noble goal and a real time suck:)

    Thanks for the post - very thought-provoking.


  6. Great post....I"m going to try for 100 books in 2013 now!!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Glad to see you are following your dream. I will watch for your book.

  9. I wonder if I could find the time to read 100 books in 2013...thanks for the inspiration, not only to do that, but to go back to writing crappy first drafts.

  10. Oh, it makes me very happy to see my advice in a blog post! I should have read 100 books in 2012 too. Maybe next year.

  11. I'm glad to hear that your back pain is more manageable now. I appreciate hearing about the writing/editing conflict, because that is certainly an issue for me. I will try some of your suggestions. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi James

    Thanks for the post. It just goes to show Sometimes obstacles(your back injury) are there to slow us down so that we can correct our path and follow our dreams. I've recently read a book by Mark Levy "Accidental Genius" where Mark discusses the art of Free Writing. Again congratulations on the progress and thanks for sharing