Friday, November 11, 2016

The Art of the Crappy First Draft

Today, I asked my students do some crappy writing. And it was awesome.

This summer, I was introduced to the concept of giving writers permission to write subpar first drafts through Anne Lamont's "Shitty First Drafts". Essentially, Lamont notes that writing first drafts that are just plain bad is an important part of the writing process. She says that all good writers do it. It's what allows them to write second and third drafts that are better. Trusting in the process is key here, and there's freedom in allowing yourself to write without worrying whether or not it's any good. Because once you embrace the idea of the awful first draft, you're no longer focused on anything but getting the draft out. And that's what I wanted my students to do.

I decided that today, our first real drafting opportunity, was the perfect time to introduce Lamont's idea to my students (though I gave it the more "school-friendly" name of Crappy First Drafts). At the beginning of class, I invited my writers to the carpet for our brief meeting before we wrote. I asked them to look at the plot path that they had chosen (we spent a few days trying multiple paths for our stories) and to ask themselves, "What scene is begging to be written first?" I told them that some writers always, always, always start at the beginning. But others start in the middle. Or even the end! They quickly looked over their plot arcs and made a decision and told their writing partner their plan.

I then told them a brief story about 13-year old me, who loved to write but had a nasty perfectionist streak. I told them of entire drafts that got scribbled up, torn up and thrown away, never to see the light of day again. I told them how I thought I should get it right the first time, not the fifth time. I told them how I wish my teachers had given me permission to write a crappy first draft.

I looked each one of them in the eye, and I said, "Here's the thing, guys. First drafts aren't about getting it right. They're about getting it out. The only writing that is truly awful? The writing that doesn't exist."

I saw many smiles when I told them that I wanted their crappy first drafts. The crappier, the better!

I handed out sheets of lined paper and clipboards (more on my decision to have everyone draft on paper to come in a later post), and my students chose a space that worked for them so that they could hunker down and write. As everyone settled in and got started, I reminded them, "I WANT your crappy first drafts. I want you to just put words on the page without worrying about it."

And that's what my students did. They wrote without abandon and without fear. They embraced the idea of "The Crappy First Draft." Some even proudly titled their paper to reflect the idea!

Most students produced several pages of writing, well beyond the one scene I had hoped for. At the end of the period, I lowered the ambient sounds I was playing while we wrote and asked for my writers' attention. It was like pulling them out of a trance--they were so into what they were writing!

We get REALLY comfortable when we write. One of those lumps is his clipboard! 
As they left class today, my students were talking about their "crappy first drafts," but it wasn't in a defeated, frustrated way. They were excited! As my third hour students finished up today, one of my kiddos handed his writing folder to me, a huge smile on his face, and said, "Mine is REAL crappy, Ms. K."

I laughed and said, "Good! Look how much you wrote!" I opened up his folder and saw he had over four pages of writing.

I think the success we had today is the product of many things: taking the time to truly discover a story we liked, getting to know our characters in depth, and having a plan for how our story might go.

But one of the biggest pieces of today? Freedom. Giving my students permission to make their writing crappy allowed them to write without distraction, without hesitation, and without fear.

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