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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Sidestep Writer’s Resistance with the Willingness to Suck

shitty first draftI shared a Wall Poster on my Facebook page with the “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners…” quote from Ira Glass that’s making the rounds right now. If you’re getting started as a writer, the advice is right on target. If you’ve been writing awhile, it’s an excellent reminder. If you haven’t seen the quote yet or if you want a reminder, here it is.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

“A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Glass only about the suggestion to finish a story a week – that kind of pressure can be the source of resistance, even full-fledged writer’s block. You do need to write often and a lot, but I still think the best way to do that is with the 15 Magic Minutes.

“What If It’s No Good?”

Far too many writers get stopped with the thought “What if it’s no good?” This isn’t all that surprising since we learned to write in grade school and writing is associated with school more than any other creative pursuit. And what did we learn in grade school? That you’re supposed to get the answer right the first time. You’re either right or wrong. If you’re not sure you’re right, the best strategy is to shut up until you are sure. Which translates to “I better wait until I know what I write will be good.” The longer you wait, the better the writing has to be to justify the length of time you waited.

The problem is the only way to write something good is to start writing no-so-good stuff, get your shitty first draft done and then revise. Of course in school no one ever rewards you for a shitty first effort; people think you’re stupid if your first effort is anything less than perfect.

You just have to be willing to suck for awhile. Actually you have to be willing to have your first efforts suck forever. Even when you’re an experienced writer who’s practiced the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell observed it takes to achieve mastery, your first drafts will still be shitty.

So what are you waiting for? Go write some crap. The sooner you put in your time, the sooner you get through the phase where everything you write is crap and move to the place where your first drafts are shitty, but there’s hope for your second drafts, promise in your third drafts, real potential in the fourth drafts and so on until your final drafts are finally good.

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