You may have heard me say (or read my post) that to write well, you have to be willing to write badly.
But do you know when to write badly?
Writing badly is what Anne Lamont calls the Sh*tty First Draft, Marla Beck calls the Swiss Cheese Draft and I call the Dreck Draft.
The willingness to play around in the muck is essential. You never know whether what you’ll create today will be the brilliant prose or luminous poetry you hope for or complete and utter crap. If you wait for a guarantee that you what you write will be good, you’ll be a waiter, not a writer.
You play in the mess and uncertainty in the early part of the Verification Stage. (Verification is the fifth stage in the 6 Stages of the Creative Process — read more here or find a comprehensive discussion in Chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block.)
When you’re in early Verification, don’t slow yourself down trying to make the writing good — just get it on the page or screen. You don’t have to strive to write badly, simply abandon your attachment to writing well. For now.
Just the Crap, Ma’am
Do Not try to draft and edit at the same time. Because they are two very different cognitive processes, trying to edit as you draft is a form of multitasking. Read more about why multitasking always takes longer and leads to more errors than monotasking, aka doing tasks sequentially.
You don’t have to wallow in the mess forever. There is a point when you stop looking for possibilities that can take you in unexpected and promising directions, and will undoubtedly mess up your draft.
When you’re ready to stop looking for options, you commit to the current messy draft and start revising to clean up and polish. Of course, there will uncertainty and mess as you revise, but you strive to move away from the dreck and start writing well.
Lamont calls it the sh*tty First draft for a reason.
So now you know when to stop messing around. But when you do start?
The stage that precedes Verification is Illumination, which is the flash of insight, the glorious ‘a-ha’ moment where the solution becomes clear and the pieces fall into place.
The only way to get the glory of Illumination is to move through Incubation. And the only way through Incubation is the path of surrender. You can’t force your way through Incubation.
You have to do your research (Stage 2 Saturation) to give yourself enough facts, information and images to work with. In fact, you have to saturate yourself so much data, that your conscious mind can’t keep track of it all and can’t see how all the pieces fit together. You have to let your conscious mind stop trying so your unconscious mind can find new associations and connections that give rise to the A-ha insight.
While you’re in Incubation, your Product Time includes walking or otherwise getting your body busy, letting your mind wander, asking yourself questions and freewriting answers, brainstorming and talking with others, going for an aimless drive, soaking in a hot tub or floating in a cool pool.
This is the stage where taking a nap is a legit way of showing up for Product Time. Let yourself daydream. Pay attention to your night dreams.
Not only must you avoid social media and other electronic input during Product Time, strive to reduce the information overload throughout the day. How will your brain know what puzzle pieces you’re trying to put together if you keep dumping pieces from other puzzles on the table?
The trick of incubation is to just be in it. Don’t revert to doing more research. Don’t try to jump ahead to drafting. Don’t buy into the work ethic. For creative people, some of the most productive times are when we’re doing “nothing.”
Are You All In for Creative Dreck?
How bad are you willing to be? The limit of your tolerance for dreck is also your limit for creative brilliance. If you’re only willing to stick your toe in the water, only your toe gets wet.
If you want to give yourself opportunities to create big and bold, you have to be willing to immerse yourself in the messy, out of control, uncertainty of it all.
Please join the conversation with a comment about how bad you’re willing to be. How do you feel about your writing naptime and your writing craptime? What keeps you moving through the stages of the creative process? How do you avoid the trap of always being busy?