Thank you, Anne Lamott. It isn’t often that the title of one chapter changes my life. I don’t even like reading books about writing because I suspect they are a sly trap to tempt us to read about writing when we should be writing. But that chapter heading “Shitty First Drafts” is a gift to all of us. The phrase is short, pithy, and to the point. It frees me to write when the sun is shining and the cupboard is bare. It says to me, “Just write. It’s okay.”
Today I broke the 2,000 word mark on writing my dissertation. Only two months ago I came home from Europe with a laptop full of notes and a head full of ideas. For six weeks I luxuriated in being home, seeing the family, taking walks, changing little things around the house, making it mine again. The biggest challenge of being a doctoral student and retired is managing chunks of time.
One of the most tempting distractions is probably staring at you right now. It may be a laptop, a tablet, a cell phone, or a desktop pc (are they on their way out?). It willingly responds to your touch, offering you emails, social networks, photos, games, music, videos, and the latest news—political, entertainment, tech stuff (my personal favorite)—trust me, that digital companion caters to your every weakness. During my Fulbright year in Germany my laptop was my lifeline, my only connection with home and family.
I was constantly drawn to email, Skype, and Facebook. But I stood firm. No surfing in the library. Now the online temptations are far less appealing. I have people all around me—children home for the weekend, lunch dates with my Dad, dinners with friends. My home calls to me in a way my Wolfenbüttel apartment never could. What about fixing a really good patio dinner tonight, do I need to go to the store for that, might as well get gas while I’m out, and by the way, the garden is weedy, the aquarium is mossy, and my workspace is messy. . . And there I draw the line. I know the urge to clean the cluttered desk and shelves that surround me is really just one more excuse to avoid confronting that blank screen. Like reading books about how to write. So I won’t fall for it. At least not until I reach the 3,000 word mark.
Because the only way to write is to write. Don’t read about writing, think about writing, or wish you were writing. Just write. Only one thing bothers me. Could I be writing just to avoid cleaning my desk? I wonder if Anne has anything to say about that. . . now where is my copy of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life? Darn, I can’t find anything around here.