NaNoWriMo, Day 6 – Permission to write Dreck; The Sloppy Copy

Literature Blogs

Anne Lamott in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird, has a chapter called “Shitty First Drafts” – crude, but accurate, IMHO. I prefer thinking of my first drafts as vomit. Similar idea. I throw up words onto my computer screen, and when I look them over, want to flush them all away. I actually do delete most of what I write – except when I’m blogging.

It’s my third and ninth drafts which I find trying. I never, ever knew writing could be such hard work. Really.

Too often kids will write something and say, “It’s perfect the way it is. I don’t want to change a thing.” I’d pump them with questions to get them thinking about descriptions of people or setting or objects, or ask reasons for their character actions. Then they would stomp back to their little desks and reluctantly make changes, which were always for the better. Even they could see that after the fact.

About halfway through one year as a second grade teacher, a new, cute expression for teaching writing was the Sloppy Copy. It gave kids permission to make mistakes the first time they put their words down, knowing that they would be revisiting their manuscripts to make it be better and look better on the second or third drafts. Shortly after I told them about the Sloppy Copy idea, I gathered their papers and looked them over. There were words written at a slant. One word might be written huge, while others were neat and tidy. A phrase was scribbled out, but then rewritten, word for word. There were smudges, and erase marks so hard that the paper tore. Even my neatest students were suddenly messy-bessies.

What was going on?

Then it occurred to me: They were only being obedient to their silly teacher’s instruction without understanding the reasoning behind the request. They each tried their best to make their first drafts look really sloppy and really messy, as if they were being graded on how messy they could get their papers to look.

Sweet little darlings.

Once upon a long time ago – before word processors – I would type out a story on a machine called a typewriter, make pen and pencil corrections on it including all sorts of insertions using symbols for codes to locate the word, sentence, or paragraph elsewhere on the page. When my paper became unreadable, I would retype it, and start the revision process all over again.

My computer screen doesn’t give that hands-on, Sloppy Copy feel to writing. I can delete entire chapters without so much as a teensy heart-pain any more. I might write it, but I can also recognize dreck when I see it. I can save my work onto either the computer or a jump drive, then turn the screen off and not have an unattractive stack of paper to remind me of what horrid strings of words I put together this time.

NaNoWriMo is great for writing motivation – motivation to get the shitty first draft down, that sloppy copy. Who knows? At the end of this month, I may delete my entire NaNo story and start over again. I’ve done it before.

Enough procrastination by talking about writing. Back to writing dreck.

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