Saturday, March 23, 2013

creating a/broad, March 23, 2013

The Shitty First Draft
by Cameryn Moore

I’m sitting in my workshop, Three Different Paths to a First Draft, while the two students work. Two people is more than I expected on this snowy March day—I hate that phrase “snowy March day”, that should not even exist—they are sitting here at the table, one of them pounding away on a 1914 manual typewriter, the other on her 2008 laptop, and they are pounding away, and I felt like I should join them. This is a new workshop I’m offering, giving participants the opportunity to practice stream-of-consciousness writing using keyboard, longhand writing, and manual typewriter. The processes are different, but really they’re all geared at the same damn thing: Shitty First Drafts. 

I called the workshop something fancy to help people realize that I was being thoughtful about this, but I should have just put the word “shitty” in the title. Or clarified the title better. The typewriter and keyboard and pen, these are tools, just pieces of equipment for the production of text. The actual paths to a first draft are only two: 
  1. pick and fuss and put down and take back and tweak until you want to scream
  2. do a brain dump with free writing and get at the shit right away
But here’s the secret: either way, you’re going to get a shitty first draft! Might as well be quick and easy about it!

I have to own the shit as well as the shine.

That’s what free writing does for scripts or columns or books or anything. I personally get a different voice from doing the free writing, no matter what tool I’m using, but that’s not the reason why I would do free writing. No, I do it to clear the shit out.

I don’t think we spend enough time in that space as writers, as artists. I know I don’t, because it is really fucking hard to be there. It is embarrassing as all hell, even when I don’t share the shit with anyone else. I still have to live with the fact that I created it; I dredged that nasty shapeless sludge up from the bottom of my creative barrel. It’s mine, I have to own it, acknowledge it as a necessary phase in the development of my work, even if it’s complete shit. Especially if it’s complete shit, I have to do it. I have to own the shit as well as the shine.

This stage of the work strikes at a precious illusion that I think many artists hold, that our inspiration, our crystal-clear first draft, will bubble up, right into our hands, if we wait long enough. (Oh, my dears, so seldom, so very seldom!) Whereas if we deliberately and directly go through the shitty first draft, we have to acknowledge that in addition to being 60 percent water, we are, like, 75 percent shit. Maybe more. But at least we’ll be working with something.

By shit I don’t mean bad. By shit, I mean simply raw messy stuff. Things that have no reason, reasons that have no logical basis, logic that is faulty and flawed, flaws that are too gross to air in public, stories, images, loose connections, relationships that trail off. This is the stuff of human existence, right: shit and tears and more shit, and we have that just as much as any punter we perform for. Who are we to think that we’re above it all?

It contains the seeds and the manure and the poison and promise of everything you want to do

That’s what writing the shitty first draft gets out. It punctures a hole in the wall, the container that we have painstakingly erected around the shit. I know I put a wall around my own process; I didn’t want anyone to know all the shit in my head. But diving straight into the shitty first draft, that punctures a hole right there and the shit pours out, and oh god oh god, that’s what’s in there, rub your own face in it, that is the primordial, proverbial manure that makes it all grow. It contains the seeds and the manure and the poison and promise of everything you want to do, it’s glorious and terrifying, that’s what we fear, we crave, we desire.

So there. This is my shitty first draft that I primarily created while helping my students tap into a shitty first draft, because that shit is important. I am listening to them click-clacking on the keyboards of the laptop, hammering away on a rusty piece of vintage office equipment. I have no idea what comes out, I have no idea where they will go with it, and that is not important. What’s important is that I don’t hear any silent spaces, I told them. All I want to hear is the sound of raw real production, scrape scrape scrape, that’s what we need, that’s what has to happen for whatever the next stage will be.

I’m going to have to go back and do this again, for myself, in earnest. Once this year’s show comes out (April 9-13 at MainLine, y’all!), my 2014 show needs to get started. I have been obsessing about it on every car ride for the last three months, but I suspect I just need to get the shit-scraper gears revved up and tackle it, because it is not forming coherent lines in my head. This play will not burst forth from my forehead perfectly formed. It is a new genre for me—a straight-up, mostly fictional comedy—and I will just need to dump all the shit out of my head and see what emerges. I don’t know yet what that will be, I don’t know yet, but I think it could be awesome.

But first there’s the shit. 

Guh. Not again.

I take a deep breath, plug my nose, and wade right in.

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