State of the Shannon: December 29, 2016
Shannon grew up as a “First Draft Best Draft” writer. Much of what she wrote down in a first draft was praised by both teachers and peers, and felt anywhere between “good” and “totally awesome!” The habit of sticking with a first draft continued from high school into college, where even reports and presentations were rigidly outlined and then the best possible first draft was spawned. Minor errors would be corrected and a sentence here or there that felt off would be adjusted. As long as she got the grade, it was enough. Not required to take writing classes in college, feedback and criticism of her work was limited to fact-checking or philosophy, correcting conjugation and misspellings of foreign languages.
No longer a youth with delusions of grandeur and hopes of easy success, she grew to recognize that not ever word she wrote was gold. Not every sentence was poetry. Not every chapter was enthralling. Not every story had a plot or purpose. The more she learned about writing and as she received more feedback than accolades, the greater her self-doubt grew. Improvements needed to be made, study needed to be done, and above all she simply needed to practice writing, but that was all simply a lot of work. Study was something she could do in the future, right? Writing stories was for fun, for the expression of emotions rather than employment.
It was no longer enough to remain in mediocrity. Taking part in the Redwall Survivor contest, she found that her writing could improve, but it was difficult and time consuming to write well. Many nights were spent in tears, asking the universe why it had to be so hard, why the words wouldn’t come when she called. It was a bit of a relief when her character failed to make it to the next round, a chance for her to take a breather and let those who were left finish the story. She didn’t have to work any more.
Two NaNoWriMos (National Novel Writing Month) and one Redwall epilogue later, she found herself wanting to produce a story that was more than just a first draft, to make more words people would enjoy reading. As luck would have it, she was invited to take part in a writing exercise where she would be forced to think critically about how she wrote. To really engage with a specific character and attempt to write from their point of view based on their experiences and interests. She would have to put aside writing about the one thing she felt she knew best – herself – and consider what might be going through the mind of another who might not conform to her own preconceived notions.
Hours were spent staring at the screen. Coffee, tea, beer, whine… um, wine were consumed in the pursuit of art, and much of the time the words failed to flow as she wished. With her first short scene, it took three hours and seven attempts to string together words that satisfied her pride, and after nothing met her expectations, she closed her laptop and walked home in the cold night air. A few other scenes came more readily, and she relished the moments she could be “o so clever!”
On the night of December 28th – or was it the morning of the 29th? – she once again realized her status as a First Draft Writer and recognized how her own self-doubt and fears of failure continued to sabotage her attempts to write at all. This time, though, she remembered one of the basic lessons of NaNoWriMo: allow yourself to write drivel!
Still afraid of failure, she thought about that lesson during the day. Even if the words didn’t want to emerge in the string of pearlescent elegance she so craved, they could be scooped out of the 31 year-old barrel of nouns, adjectives, articles, and devoiced consonants*, plopped onto a cutting board, trimmed, and then seasoned. She could write an awful first draft! Not everything had to be perfect or even accurate the first time around – except at work where pricing kind of did have to be right the first time – because it could be improved and polished and transformed.
It will be an awful lot of work, but one doesn’t pan for gold by only putting gold in the pan. It will take a shift in perspective, but that’s why this blog is called “Shannon Writes Things” instead of “Shannon Writes Perfectly.”
Choosing not to edit her own thoughts, she felt fairly confident that she made her point with this post. With a simple click, the world now knew what she knew.