How to Start a S#!tty First Draft

I’ve heard this concept for a while and I finally read what I believe is the first reference to a S#!tty First Draft (SFD) in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Of course, I got stuck on a blank page in Word and was trying to figure out how to start a SFD. Blank white space is intimidating. The last two posts I published, one on my dog and one on creating your reality, have received a bunch of great feedback. I get caught up in the, “How am I going to follow that one up?” When you see hundreds of people across the world have read your post, it can either be emboldening or utterly intimidating. I can be haunted by thoughts like, “How dare I think I can follow that up.”

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So here we go. The how’s and why’s of the SFD:

Percolate.  I think of the old, dust-covered Hamilton Beach Percolator my mother would drag out and clean for bridge club in the mid 1960’s. Even if the end product is unpalatable and bitter, the process of filtering through and rethinking and mulling over is important. I started thinking about the SFD when I read Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong some four months ago. Yesterday, I read about it in Bird by Bird. I made notes. I took a shower. I washed my hair. I digested. I realize that, in retrospect, I do this with most of the topics I write about. Something piques my interest and then I let it sit and percolate. I need a little reflection to put the pieces together. So before you start your SFD, percolate a bit.

Start.  The problem with percolating is that it cannot stop there. Percolating can become ruminating. Obsessing. Procrastination. So sit down, whether it’s 6 AM or, as I sit here on the West Coast, my laptop reads: 9:07 AM PST/12:07 PM EST. Start. Open up a blank document. Start. Spill. Type. Don’t worry about another cup of coffee or if you are at your favorite desk with your fuzzy slippers on. Just start. If you wait for the perfect moment to arrive, it will remain elusive.

Sloppy.  I think we all have a bit of perfectionism inside of us. Some of us more overtly than others. I don’t iron my underwear but I do like a clear counter-top and I have a certain way I like the pillows on my couch. As Jason Lengstorf writes, “But there’s hesitation. What if it’s not exactly right? What if people judge your work too harshly? What if this idea isn’t as good as you thought? Small worries like these can lead to procrastination and unnecessary stress.” We get caught up in perfectionism. It won’t be perfect. It can never be perfect. So go for sloppy. Embrace the wabi-sabi.

Data.  Brene wrote in Rising Strong, “In the absence of data, you’ll make up a story.” Isn’t that the truth? I typically search a few terms like “SFD” or “letting go of perfectionism” to see what other data is out there. Who else has written about this? What are their thoughts? What other insights are out there? When searching SFD, I found a bunch of things on actual writing but this all can be applied to more than just writing. Gather the data on the project you want to start. Gather the data on the new knife set you want to buy. I’m not suggesting you turn this into the dreaded analysis paralysis but gather some data for your SFD.

Look.  Keep an eye out for Quantum Flirts.  I learned about Quantum Flirts at the ORSC training by CRR Global. Is the Universe winking at you? Are they sending an almost imperceptible or more overt “sign” that you need to take in? I have been mulling over starting a book for months…er…. years…maybe a decade. I saw Frances McDormand on the Oscars, when she asked every woman to stand up who was nominated and she said, “We all have stories to tell.” For me, this was a sign. I have a story to tell. Some fifty plus years in the making. I need to start telling that story. The Universe was giving me a sign that I need to start writing my book. I need to tell my story. Thank you, Frances.

End.  As Anne Lamott wrote, you need to have the end in mind before you start. How do you know where you are going unless you know the destination? My destination for this piece is for you, my reader, to get started. Whatever getting started means for you. Get out your sneakers and run for 30 seconds. Take one pile of papers off the end of the dining room table. Start that gnarly project you have been sitting on for months…perhaps years. Think about what the end-result will be, whether it’s feeling in better shape, finally decluttering your home or getting that project complete. It doesn’t have to be perfect or reasonable or perspiration-free. Start…with the end in mind.

I am really fortunate to have an excellent editor that makes my posts come together. Most of my posts are SFD’s with misspellings, grammatical errors and references that are incorrect. I dump on a page and hope my editor can make sense of it. This makes writing a SFD a lot easier because I know that Susan has my back and will fix my mistakes. Just start. Listen to Frances. What story do you want to tell? I know you have one.

What story are you telling yourself?

You walk into the room and everyone snickers. They must hate the new shoes I am wearing. Your assistant forgets to copy you on an email. She must have it out for me. Your boss doesn’t return your text for at least 2 hours. She must not think I am important enough.

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These are all stories we tell ourselves. We take a few floating facts and put them into a story that sets us up for disappointment. We feel marginalized and often shut down. The thing is that everyone tells Their Story in their own head. But how often do we test our assumptions? How often do we verify that we have The Story right? This whole concept was illuminated in Brene Brown’s powerful book, Rising Strong.

Here is how to unravel your story:

  • Curious.  As Brene wrote, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” It is so much easier to live in our self-deprecating assumptions that everyone is out to get us. When we open ourselves to curiosity, we open to possibility. This helps reframe or re-write the story. So how does this play out? Hmmm. Maybe my boss is in an important meeting. Maybe my assistant didn’t forget to copy me intentionally. Maybe I should ask my friend why everyone was snickering. Remain curious.
  • Wabi-Sabi.  Wabi-Sabi is accepting imperfection and uncertainty. As Brene wrote, “It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” Striving for perfection is exhausting. You will never be ________ (fill in the blank: good, smart, thin, funny) enough. Seeking perfection is inviting shame. The shoes will never be right. The report not all encompassing enough. Shame will not help the story in your head. Embrace the wabi-sabi in your life.
  • Enough.  This is one of the best quotes from the book: “Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” It’s so important to tell yourself that you are enough. Try this: Shoulder’s back, stride into the room, smile and make eye contact. The next time you are walking into a room of new people, try it. It makes a remarkable difference in how you show up and how you feel. You are enough.
  • Own it.  Brene wrote, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I’ve done this a few times with my husband over the last few weeks. When I started believing that he was mad at me or was upset about something, I would start by saying, “So I have two stories that I’m telling myself. One is that you are working really hard and are stressed and can’t be as attentive. The other is that you don’t love me anymore and you are seeing someone else.” Guess which story was true. Now I can own the real story.
  • Discomfort. This can be uncomfortable. It takes bravery. As Brene posits, “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad-asses.” Think of yourself as a New York Times reporter fact-checking your story. It’s definitely uncomfortable to step into the vulnerability of uncertainty. If it’s too comfortable, are you really challenging the facts of the story. Engage in discomfort.
  • Ditch comparison. Comparing yourself to other’s is another way of writing the wrong story. As Brene wrote, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” Comparison is a limiting belief. In addition, it invites in perfectionism. My neighbor has a nicer car. My boss has a bigger office. I don’t make as much money as my colleague. Not very inspiring. Nothing to compel you onward and upward! We are all on our own path. As Brene says, “Stay in your own lane.”

I have slowly tried to incorporate this into my life. I take a step back when I am angry or resentful over something and try to reframe my story. It’s not easy but I do feel more present and I am able to re-write the story. What story do you need to reframe?