Shitty First Draft

Posted on March 7, 2016


I completed my second to last quarter of grad school, registered for my final quarter of grad school and finished a shitty first draft of the book. It seems much bigger here on the page than it does in real life.

Well no, I take part of that back. Registering for the final quarter felt pretty big in person. I told the registration lady – because I am in the Extended Degree Program, the program for grown ass people who have to keep working or have lives or prioritize other things than papers on institutional racism and intergenerational poverty, we have to register in person or by fax – that I’m done and she said she wouldn’t judge me if I danced out the door. I wouldn’t cared if she had anyway. Judge away. Six consecutive years of school nearly complete, and I’ll dance whenever I damn well please. But I digress.

The first draft of the book is complete and it’s out in the world for notes. I’ve already gotten some notes, interesting and helpful. Yet more interesting than the notes I have/will receive is this idea I’m struggling with: Why isn’t my shitty first draft perfect?

So I know that all first drafts are shitty. And I also know that on a scale of shitty to shit hitting a fan that’s then turned on, thus sending shit all over the walls, ceiling and floor, my draft is just a little shitty. Realistically, it’s the bones of the story. It’s structurally sound. The second act needs finesse. The third act is ready to go.

I like to think it took me thirty thousand fucking words to let go of the rigors of graduate school writing. Fuck you APA citations. Fuck you dry ass language. Fuck you, no swearing in this paper please. And against all logic and rational thought, I can’t seem to shake that feeling that my first draft should be good, done, perfect, ready to send to press. Delightfully and wildly distorted thinking.

Nothing I’ve ever done on the first try has been perfect.

In fact, nothing I’ve ever done has been perfect. Period.

I find myself reflecting on this idea of perfection in the same way that I reflect on the process of finding balance on one foot. Just as balance is achieved it is lost. The push and pull of gravity, the sway of weight, the most gentle breeze. Balance is something that we come into and out of regularly, not this static state of being.

“This dinner is wonderfully balanced.” – Don’t eat it and check it out in sixty minutes. Something will have changed.

“My check book is balanced.” – You can never spend another dime. Actually, who even says that?!

“It’s all about work life balance.” – People who generally work tirelessly to both play and accomplish more work.

Balance requires effort. First drafts require second, thirds, eighths, twelfths. A shitty first draft isn’t a personal affront Jennie, it’s progress forward. A goal set and hit. A marker. A small success. I just read an article about celebrating small successes, and how our brain doesn’t measure the size of success, but instead the frequency. Every small success matters.

First draft.

First word.

Last quarter.