Why you should write messy first drafts

Anne Lamott, my favorite writer on writing, tells us to write "shitty first drafts." I pass her wisdom on to every writer I coach or train or advise. You have to start somewhere. So lower your expectations and make a mess. Why is this good advice?
  1. Setting aside perfection makes way for inspiration.
    When you're not hung up on commas, subject-verb agreement, and consistent tense, your attention is free to catch those fireflies of brilliance that flit through your consciousness when you're on a roll.
  2. When you know your first draft is riddled with errors, you'll invest yourself in careful editing.
    Writing poorly doesn't hurt your credibility; publishing bad writing does. You don't want a mistake to slip past the "send" button. If you've allowed yourself the freedom of a shitty first draft, you'll treat the revision process like a high-stakes scavenger hunt, where you root out every error or shortcoming that could tarnish your reputation.
  3. Writing nonsense is fun.
    Giving yourself permission to write ANYthing gives you a helluva lot of latitude. You can pour yourself onto the page, stream-of-consciousness style. Describe your worst nightmare, vent about your in-laws, list the reasons you don't want to write. Eventually, you'll run out of nonsense and tap into what you really have to say. Meanwhile, you can lighten up and enjoy the ride.
  4. You increase your chances of writing something good.
    The more you show up at the page, the more shit you write, the more chances you have to maybe say something meaningful.
  5. You learn.
    That writing takes time, and you have time to write. That writing is hard, but you can do it. That you notice and know things. And the more you learn, the more you know. And the more you know, the more you grow. (Cliche, but so fucking true.)
  6. You become a writer.
    You know what makes someone a writer? Writing. And when you write a first draft—even if it's an utter disaster—that's what you're doing. So for heaven's sake, lighten up and enjoy the ride.