Brilliant Beginnings

by Mistina Picciano on January 12, 2009

As I write this, it’s January 12 – or January 13, depending on your geography. (Since I’m presently flying over Alaska toward Japan, I feel caught between dates.) Regardless, we’re darn close to the start of the New Year. New resolutions, new beginnings.

For Mom and me, it’s the start of our latest adventure: three weeks in Taiwan with family.

For me and my business (and my writing life), today also marks the start of this new blog.

Beginnings always create unrealistic expectations of greatness. We feel the need to show our brilliance. This nasty pressure especially plagues writers, who so often give up on their craft because they’re disappointed with early attempts.

It’s okay to suck.

In Bird by Bird, one of the best books on writing I’ve ever read, Anne Lamott says it’s okay to write “really [crappy] first drafts.”

This isn’t just sound advice; it’s almost a universal mandate. Papa Hemingway himself said, “The first draft of anything is [doodoo].”

You have to write the garbage to get the gold.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the Great American Novel, a sales letter, or an e-book. With very rare exception, our first attempts fall way short of brilliance.

Sure, these initial scribblings may get the job done. Writing a memo to your boss? Just the facts will probably suffice.

But if you really want your writing to stand out, you must embrace the art of the rewrite.

Ninth time’s the charm?

Almost one year ago, the very talented Liz Martinez invited me to submit a short story for an anthology on Native American noir. I decided to take the plunge, seizing an opportunity to learn more about my Native American heritage.

My story came together over several months, many sessions of which felt like certain NaNoWriMo adventures. I’d sit at my computer or take a notebook and pen and write whatever drivel came to mind. Much of it sounded like crapola, but I had to forge ahead to the end.

Due to time constraints, I showed the complete, imperfect draft to my husband, one of my biggest fans – and one of my most direct critics. Tony offered praise and pointed out current plot holes.

I smiled, nodded, silently vowed not to do his laundry for the next three months, and went back to my keyboard. Roughly 50% of the story changed in the next draft.

We went through this exercise twice more before submitting the story for editorial review.

Then, Sarah Cortez, Liz’s sharp and insightful co-editor, gently guided me through the real revision process. While I’ve worked with editors in the business world, fiction editing was another animal. Together, we produced five more drafts before arriving at the final story that was submitted to the publisher.

The process, not the product.

So much in life comes down to the process, not simply the end product. For instance, I know very few writers who actually enjoy writing, but almost all enjoy the satisfaction of having written a solid piece.

Becoming a better writer – whether you’re a blogger, a marketing writer, a journalist, or a novelist – means giving yourself permission to write badly.

  • Write in great quantities.
  • Accept your malformed early drafts for what they are.
  • Make them better.
  • Rinse and repeat. Again.

Whatever the challenge ahead, attack it with gusto. Accept the fact that success may involve many failed attempts. It’s the courage to fail – and to learn from our mistakes – that will ultimately transform our dreams into reality.

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