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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.

Out of the Postponement Loop: Step 2 Writing from the Bubbles of an Idea

When I posted the previous post in the Out of the Postponement Loop series, I didn’t know if my next step in rescuing my “Early Drafts” project would be to look at the Shitty First Drafts cluster for structure and transitions among the bubble topics or to freewrite.

Turns out, I didn’t take either of those steps.

I decided to avoid getting bogged down in how I would structure the entire piece or how to transition between big ideas.

Instead I started with the cluster bubble I was pretty sure would be the first main idea (Bubble 2, Lamott’s Positive Intention & Benefits) and the bubbles immediately connected to Bubble 2 (Bubbles 3 -10 and 16).

Bubble Contents

In case you want a reminder, the bubble topics are:

  1.  Lamott’s Positive Intentions and Benefits
  2.  Stop judgement
  3.  Reassure yourself writer/readers
  4.  All writers do this
  5.  Play with writing
  6.  Get a draft you can work with
  7.  Maybe unexpected insights
  8.  Freedom from judgement perfectionism
  9. Solves the ‘how to start’ problem
  10. Can identify self as writer

More than a Freewrite, Less than a Draft

I looked at Bubble 2, wrote one sentence and added a specific example (from Bubble 4). I read the relevant chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird to find quotes. I also inserted my interpretation of Anne Lamott’s intention. I polished the rough paragraph just a bit – it’s not as raw as a freewrite nor as polished as a real draft. I looked back at the cluster and put check marks next to Bubbles 2 and 4.

I repeated that process: glance at a bubble, rough-write a sentence or two, sometimes add a quote, and sometimes put words in Lamott’s mouth. I added related ideas as they occurred to me, then looked at the cluster to see what bubble(s) to check mark. I smoothed some of the roughest spots of the new sentences, then moved on.

I knew I wasn’t really drafting, just making sentences from bubbles. I wasn’t thinking about how it sounded for a reader yet; when I smoothed sentences or phrases it was to refine my thinking and make space for the next idea. When I wrote the last sentence, I didn’t know which part of the cluster to use next, so I set the project aside.

I include the sentences and paragraphs that grew out of the upper right hand corner of the cluster here as part of the demo of my writing process I promised to share with you.

The Almost Draft of “Good Intentions” Bubbles

(First paragraph from Bubbles 2 and 4)

I applaud Anne Lamott’s good intentions. She reassures and inspires her students and readers, telling us in effect “I’ve been where you are. I know the uncertainty that can grow into panic and despair.” Since I’m ascribing motive to Lamott, I’ll use unitalized font for actual quotes from her chapter “Shitty First Drafts” in Bird by Bird and use italics when I’m putting words in her mouth.


(Second paragraph from Bubble 5)

Lamott offers the shitty first draft (SFD) as a way out of fear and into writing. When she writes “All good writers write them [SFDs],” it’s clear she intends this as reassurance “Don’t worry if your first draft is crappy, everyone’s first drafts are.”


(Third paragraph from Bubble 16)

(Bubble 16) She’s not saying you must try to write a bad first draft; she extrapolates from her observations of many writers that this happens to all writers. Many of my students told me how relieved they felt when they read this chapter or even heard about it. Lamott’s observation encourages early writers to identify themselves as writers.


(Fourth and fifth paragraphs from Bubbles 9 and 3)

One of the greatest gifts of the SFD concept is that it frees writers from perfectionism and their own negative and premature judgments.

Lamott reveals “What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Her descriptions of her own process are generously and humorously honest. “Quieting those voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent.”


(Sixth and seventh paragraphs from Bubble 6)

Once free of judgment and perfectionism, writers can play and remember what they enjoy about writing. We can focus on the intriguing characters, situation, idea or image instead of how inadequate we fear we are. (In the beginning, we are inadequate; we don’t know enough yet to write really good stuff yet. We go beyond inadequate only if we’re willing to go through inadequate to okay to mastery.)

Lamott encourages writers to let to let the writing “romp all over the place.”


(Eighth paragraph from Bubbles 10 and 7)

The SFD solves the “where do I start” problem at least for now. (More about this in an upcoming post). It also gives us a draft we can work with.



(Ninth paragraph from Bubble 8)

She observes “… there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means… there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”


As I wrote the opening of this post and re-read the Almost Draft, I ssw clearly what sentences and paragraphs to rearrange and rewrite. I made notes elsewhere without changing this draft. I did promise to show you the raw, intermediate steps. Please let me know if deconstructing my writing process like this is useful for you or if you’d rather wait to read a polished draft.

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3 Comments on “Out of the Postponement Loop: Step 2 Writing from the Bubbles of an Idea”

  1. Joel D Canfield September 14, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    Interesting to see this now. I’ll know more by the end; perhaps the final product would have been enough, but maybe I’ll discover bit-by-bit was helpful.



  1. Multiple Writing Projects: Avoiding Resistance Roadblocks on Route 3 | Bane of Your Resistance - February 14, 2019

    […] Speaking of which, I’ll get back to my postponed project on Shitty First Drafts in my next post or two. You can get an introduction or refresh your memory at Part 1 and Part 2. […]


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