Why Don't She Write?

One of my favorite actors, the late Robert Pastorelli (you may remember him as Eldin in Murphy Brown) uttered a line in the film Dances With Wolves that could be asked of a lot of us. As Timmons, the foulest man on earth according to Kevin Costner’s character, he asked, “Why don’t she write?”

Lately, I’ve become aware of a lot of writers and aspiring writers of whom I could ask the same question. One of them gave me an answer recently. She told me she was a perfectionist and nothing she wrote ever met her own expectations. So she became afraid to try.

What she didn’t realize is that all writers live with the fear of writing crap. I know I do. But I’m on page 297 of my first draft. How did I get that far? By acknowledging that most of what I put down right now is going to be crap. And by knowing that there will be a second and third draft in which to fix it! Ah hah!

I’ve always envied those people who can come up with the snappy retort, the clever turn of a phrase at the drop of a hat. Me? I think of the perfect comeback three hours later. As self-proclaimed writers, we expect ourselves to have such a keen grasp on the English language that we know exactly what to say at any given moment.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way for me. For instance, yesterday I was on a roll. I’m working on the last two chapters and the action is fast and furious. But then I hit a wall. What’s the word I want? I know it. But it’s buried somewhere in my brain, being held captive. I could sit and stare at the computer screen for the next two hours making myself nuts (hey, I already am, so it’s not hard) OR I could stick a less-than-perfect word in there and keep writing, knowing that I can come back when my brain releases its hostage and fix it then.

That knowledge is liberating. Anne Lamont in Bird by Bird refers to it as the “Shitty First Draft.” We don’t have to perfect in the first draft. We have to put words on paper. Or on the computer monitor. They don’t have to be the exactly right words. They just have to give us an idea of what we want to say…of where we want our story to go. There’s time enough for perfect later.

So if you’re stuck and the folks back home are wondering “Why don’t she write?” Give yourself permission to write crap. Perfectionism has its place, but that place is NOT the first draft.


Judy Schneider said…
Great post, Annette! Sometimes it's tough to struggle past the temptation to spend time choosing the perfect word, right then and there. So I'll type a note to myself in all caps like ADD SOMETHING JUICY HERE.

Like you, I can never come up with a good comeback when I need it. I end up standing there speechless -- the perfect target for a bully. If only we could revise some of our life situations, huh?
Kristine said…
Hey Annette, congratulations on reaching page 297! You're ahead of me now!

Getting through that shitty first draft is close to pure torture, so I can understand why some writers may shy away from it. But reaching the END of that draft is always my goal. With every page I write, I know I'm one page closer to the end.
Anonymous said…
Hi Annette: That was a terrific essay. You should submit it to "Writer's Digest." They could use some of your wit and wisdom.

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