Feb 17

Thou Shalt Sucketh and It Shall Be OK

No, I am not trying to make light of the actual commandments. Yes, I’m suggesting we keep this “rule” etched onto the smooshy surfaces of our brains, as a reference for whenever we try something new.

After all, most of us don’t score a 300 on our first attempt at bowling. Some of us start somewhere around a third of that score and gradually work our way lower, losing about ten points per each subsequent attempt until we settle around a… Okay, let’s not begin with that example. Let’s try writing, instead.

Image via Unsplash/Benjamin Faust

I am a writer in progress. That is to say I am learning and hope to continue doing so until…well, until I have nothing left to say (which, if you ask my husband, won’t be any time soon). One of the first and most important things I learned about writing is not to edit during the first draft. Another way to say this? Sucky is a safe place to start.

How so?

I’m glad you asked. I know this one.

First, removing all expectations allows you to begin. It frees you to put pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, carving tool thingy to block of wood, fingertips to bowling ball (or, technically, into those finger pockets on the bowling ball). If, right from the start, you are shooting for perfection or anywhere close, forget it. It’s likely you’ll never get anywhere, because the first snag you hit will be your undoing. So, ignore all that “trying hard” stuff in the beginning. Just set your sights at trying.

Second, if you start at awful, there’s basically nowhere left to go but up. Unless. Unless you stay at awful, which is still pretty acceptable for attempts two and three. If you stay at awful for attempts four and beyond, you might want to start looking into other options. I hear bowling is nice.

But I digress. Back to writing, where I get fewer gutter balls.

Here, then, should be the Writer’s Golden Rule: first drafts are free to suck eggs. Rotten eggs, even. Maybe that’s more like a tin- or aluminum-grade rule, but the point still stands. First drafts–of anything in life–are simply a place to record your early ideas or attempts. They are a foundation upon which to build your final product.

Image via Unsplash/Cory Seward

For example, when I start a new story, I let the thoughts arrive at their own pace–sometimes in a rush, sometimes straggling in after class has already begun. This is fine. I let them come in, speak their piece and then have a seat with the others. All these voices matter. In fact, some of them might later surprise me, by offering an answer just when it seems the very last idea has gone silent.

This is my experience, but no matter how you handle your “rough draft,” have faith: trying means you’ve already reached the first plateau of success. You’re making something where once there was nothing. You are doing.

I know this because I, too, am currently doing. You see, once upon a time, I wrote a novel. At the end, I wrote myself into a sequel. Which, in case you missed the sucky metaphor, is like painting yourself into a corner. The only way out is to get your feet dirty and, boy, are my feet dirty.

It isn’t that I’m not enjoying the writing of this sequel. I am. For the most part, anyway. It’s just that, well you know where we start…right now, I am down in the mucky trenches of suck, trying to dig my way out. It’s easy to forget how many drafts come between the first and final, but I’ll get there. I’ll dig the best I can and, in the end, will I succeed? There’s no guarantee. Only time–and editing–will tell.

Though the ending may not be a given, my advice to you is still to get out there. Be courageous. Try something new or give something familiar a new try, and don’t forget: it’s a learning process. Offer yourself the permission to be terrible and then sit back and be proud of your effort. Just don’t get too comfortable there. Sucky is no place to stop.

In fact, I was just thinking…maybe we give up on things too easily at times. After all, bowling alleys have those “kiddie” bumper guards to block the gutters. If they promise to raise them for me, who knows? I might kinda rock at bowling.

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