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Writing The First Draft

The hardest part of writing a book is writing the first draft.

That’s until you have written it.

Once you have knocked it down, it becomes the easiest part. Then editing becomes the most painful activity.

For the last four days, I am grappling with how to tell the story of my inner critic.

My first approach was to construct various conversations between the two of us, make them funny and yet insightful.

That still is the goal.

But if you have written anything in your life, you would know that thoughts rarely portray on paper as well as they do in the head.

I conjured up a couple of thousand words on the first day while my mind tried to figure out how to tell the story.

The second day I woke up with the idea to write numbered paragraphs. Just like David Sedaris’s book ‘Theft by Finding.’ So I spent the whole day scanning my diaries to find moments when my inner critic and I had some interesting encounters.

I was thrilled to find our first mishap. It was in January 2011. For more than ten years, I have been aware of the presence of my inner critic.

I have come across many snippets in my diaries and journals where I am denigrating myself, but it was, in fact, my inner critic accusing me, belittling me, and stripping off my self-confidence.

But how to put it together as a story?

Just the diary entries won’t do because most of them are monologues. That could be very boring to read. I want this book to be witty and insightful.

So many times, I almost gave up.

My inner critic was sitting on a wall, laughing his head off, watching me struggle. Yet, it is his laughs that keep me going.

Presently I am just collecting all the related incidents and inner thoughts I am finding in my diaries.

I was delighted yesterday when I found a paragraph that I thought was a perfect opening for the book.

Today morning I wrote a scene that too can become the opening chapter.

I am still searching for the right tone of voice. I want it to be mature and funny, self-humorist but compassionate, revealing yet reserved. I have a glimpse of it at places which is heartening. I will be delighted if I could learn to include humor in my writing. I have been an uptight person most of my life. I am at a stage in life where I can loosen up and laugh at my own quirks.

This book is different than the first one. Progress is slow. Then I remind myself that it is just the first draft, after all.

First drafts are meant to like this. Anne Lamott calls them sh*ty first drafts.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the ‘down draft’ — you just get it down. The second draft is the ‘up draft’ — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a professional, writes Lamott, when you first sit down with something new, “We all often feel like we are pulling teeth.”

David Rakoff too compares them to sh*t.

Writing — I can really only speak to writing here — always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food. — David Rakoff, Half Empty

Whenever Austin Kleon writes a new book, he reminds himself:

“It doesn’t matter if it’s good right now, it just needs to exist.”

That is what I am reminding myself over and over again. Right now, the story just needs to exist. In time my brain will figure out a structure.

Until then, I need to keep going.

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