About Those Shitty First Drafts


Yes, “Shitty First Drafts,” is the title of a chapter in Anne Lamott’s book,  Bird by Bird (Anchor Books ed. Oct. 1995). And a fine chapter it is. Here are my three favorite quotes from the chapter, which I highly recommend you read if you are interested in writing.

“…shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.” (p.21)

Haven’t we all thought the Hemingways of the world wrote like that? I agree with Lamott. It’s all a fantasy, fiction at its best.

“…the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” (p.22)

Sound familiar? Her words sure rings bells between my ears.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something–anything–down on paper.” p.25)

Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird
Some Instructions on Writing and Life

How about you?

Do you have favorite descriptors for your first drafts?

Author: Jo-Ann Carson

About Jo-Ann Carson Where magic happens … Reports of Jo-Ann Carson’s death on a Gulf Island are greatly exaggerated or, at the very least, premature. The eclectic crew of ghosts that haunt her head spill onto the page in two series: The Gambling Ghosts and The Ghost & Abby Mysteries. A Viking with existential issues, a broken hearted Highlander, a Casanova man-witch and a Pirate with a secret are just a few of the males her strong heroines encounter in tales of fantasy, adventure and romance. A firm believer in the magic of our everyday lives, Jo-Ann loves watching sunrises, walking beaches near her home in the Pacific Northwest and reading by the fire. You can visit her on social media: Website * Blog * Twitter * Facebook

12 thoughts on “About Those Shitty First Drafts”

    1. Hi Joanne
      Eeeew it is a gross image, but yet so fitting. Thanks for telling us.
      Hope your writing is going well.
      Thanks for stopping by


  1. Too funny! This was my blog topic scheduled for Monday! I’m going to reschedule it for later and talk about something else. Loved your post and completely agree. Especially for the start of the book, which is where I struggle most. If I kept rewriting the first chapter until it was perfect before moving on, I’d never finish anything! I love the quote by C.J. Cherryh: “It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly”


    1. Hi JC
      Nice quote! But so darn hard to do, eh.
      btw I think your beginnings are quite brilliant. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the conversation.


    1. Judy
      I laughed at your reply. Great descriptors for the first draft. The image it created in my mind was of Cinderellaish dwarfs named lumpy jumpy and bumpy hammering away at the prose. Too funny.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope to see you at the meeting tomorrow.


    1. Hi Emma
      You’re so prolific I imagine you flying through the first drafts, but maybe not so much. lol. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  2. I majored in theater at the University of Texas at Austin, with an emphasis on directing. My directing prof. used the term “flight and restriction” to use when working with young actors, who are very self-conscious and afraid of making fools of themselves. You give them freedom to fly, to over-do it, and then help them shape the performance by learning where to shout, when to speak quietly, etc. This has really helped me in my writing over the years.


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