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Whenever I sit down to write a first draft or begin any creative project for that matter, my first effort is usually a childish mess that only a mother could love. Out of that mess comes something that might be good enough for a high school assignment, maybe even a college paper. But second drafts are rarely feasts; they likely contain mere tidbits that tease and eventually bore readers. The problem is that many writers like myself fall in love with their second drafts, which are still messes but wonderful messes.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott tells the story of her most successful novel, the second draft of which earned a heartfelt rejection from her editor. After a few wound-licking weeks, Lamott reread the draft and knew what to do. Section-by-section, she pulled it apart, reorganized, reshaped and revised by subtracting paragraphs and adding transitions. Several months later, Lamott clutched her third draft to her chest and met face-to-face with her editor. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.” The book still didn’t work. I suspect that this is where I am with my manuscript:  I have a third draft, but it still doesn’t work.

“The third time conquers,” so the expression goes, but not necessarily in writing or life. Sometimes things don’t work the third time around, so what’s to be done, quit and abandon ship, start something else or muddle along? Lamott paced the floor and talked out the book to her editor. That’s what she needed to write, he told her, a summary about what happens to the characters.   

I’m working on a plot treatment now and hope to have an effective fourth draft to give to my teacher and editor Sara Taber sometime this summer.  And during Sara’s 8-week series of advanced classes starting tomorrow evening at The Writer’s Center, I look forward to listening and practice assignments, reading and feedback give and take, often the best instructions for writing and life. I’ll probably make a fool of myself as usual, but will wait until I get home to lick my wounds, pace and rant. Urgh!

What draft are you working on?

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