How to Write Like a Badass: Part 2
“The first draft of anything is shit” — Badass Ernest Hemingway
Congratulations: You’ve started! You’ve watered your little seedlings and they’re growing into beautiful flowers. You’ve got a story, a narrative, and characters. You’ve grown to love them, your heart aches when bad things happen to them, you want only the best for them. And now, it is time: you must rip your precious blossoms out of the ground and throw them into the compost pile.
What?! No way! Clearly, you don’t know anything, Badass Ernest Hemingway. You especially don’t know my writing. This story and I, we’ve bonded, grown together. This is a fricken masterpiece, I tell you! Take your sheers, buddy, and back off.
Badass Step Number 2 may sound harsh, but let me suggest that this is all a process. When you’re starting, throw nothing away. It all belongs. The most important thing is for you to get as much as you can onto paper. However, there will come a time when Step Number 2 makes sense, because you will be sick of your own writing. You’ll get to a point where certain things aren’t working, some transitions feel choppy, and you don’t know how to fix them. Or worse: you’ll absolutely love all of your writing and think it’s perfect. This is a big sign. You’re ready for Badass Step Number 2.
There’s a Zen parable that teaches students to “kill the Buddha.” It doesn’t mean grab your torches and pitchforks and hunt the cheery ol’ fella down. What it means is this: at some point in a student’s meditation practice, they’ll think meditation is the answer to everything. “This meditation stuff is the SHIT! I’ve never felt happier, or more accepting of my life, because, hey, now I know: it’s all impermanent. Let’s party!”
This is when the wise bearded master would tell them to kill the Buddha. When a student becomes attached to the idea that meditation saves them from suffering, they’ve gone off the path. It will only lead to more suffering. Hence the guillotine.
I find it’s the same with writing. If you start feeling like your writing is clever, kill the Buddha. If you’ve finished your first draft, kill the Buddha. It sounds severe, but in actuality, you’ll find it freeing.
Writing is like tending soil. It needs to be turned over, nourished with compost, watered, and sometimes burned. In this process, you aren’t getting rid of anything. Everything you’ve created up until this point will remain part of the soil. The amount to which your final harvest resembles what you initially planted is different for everyone. Some writers have very little of their first draft in their final manuscript. Others don’t change much.
As you walk down this unknown path, I would urge you to be gentle with this step. Don’t start throwing things out until you’re ready. And you will be ready. At that time, you’ll take feedback hungrily. You’ll want to experiment anew where you’ve previously been stuck. You’ll know that the authenticity you seek takes a few seasons to bud.
Cultivate your soil with care and awareness of what it needs right now. The seasons can’t be rushed, and Nature has a course of revealing answers precisely when she means to. In the mean time, if you’ve just realized your first draft is shit, know this: you’re joining the ranks of the many before you who’ve walked the my-first-draft-is-shit path. Don’t lose faith. You aren’t alone.