Last week, I finally picked up Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, of which I’ve heard a lot about, but never felt the inclination to read, until recently.
Well, I wish I had picked it up earlier.
It’s quite a delightful read, chock-full of advices on writing as well as on life.
One piece of advice in particular resonated with me: write shitty first drafts.
Anne Lamott relates how most writers, no matter how great or famous they are, no matter how natural or fluid or beautiful their writings turn out to be, none of them write elegant first drafts.
“All writers write them [shitty first draft],” writes Lamott. “This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
As someone who struggles regularly with the creative writing process, I appreciated this timely lesson. And it was a huge relief to know that I’m not the only one going through this hair-pulling process on a regular basis.
As a life coach, I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully this lesson applies to life in general.
As a society we frown upon failures.
In fact, too often we expect ourselves to get something right the first time we tackle it, much like we expect great writers to sit down at their desks and type out fully-formed, near-perfect sentences and paragraphs with flying fingers.
Not surprisingly, this is one of the biggest challenges my clients face. There are usually two variants.
The first is common among my clients who are perfectionists. The fear of getting it wrong, no matter how new of a challenge it is, often stops them from trying anything new at all. They end up feeling stuck but terrified to make a move, any move.
(I was in this group not too long ago. It’s not a good place to be.)
The second variant manifests in the form of a harsh inner critic. I would hear things like “I should be a better parent” from first-time moms or “I should know how to develop and market a product” from first-time entrepreneurs…smart, intelligent, and rational people who insist that they should already know how to master and overcome challenges that they are dealing with for the very first time, and regularly beat themselves up for not achieving the impossible.
(I’m in this group too. It is so true that “you teach best what you most need to learn.”)
If either of these variants sounds familiar to you, I’d like to offer you one piece of advice:
DARE to SUCK.
In other words, write a few shitty drafts in the book of life.
Be willing to be mediocre, or even bad at something. Acknowledge that when you’re new at something, it’s acceptable, if not expected, to make mistakes and to stumble.
Because mistakes allow you to learn, and stumbling motivates you to find a better way.
Mistakes do not equal failure. In fact, as my coach says:
“There is no failure, just learning.”
Be willing to give yourself the time and space to learn, to grow, to get better. Allow yourself the opportunity to gain experience through trial and error and practice.
And when your inner critic pipes up, answer with: “I’m doing the best I can, given what I have right now. And that’s all anyone can ask of themselves.”
As Anne says: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
As is in writing, so is life.
Start somewhere. Dare to suck. Do it today.
What one thing are you willing to try if you’re not afraid to fail?
Share in the comments below!