Challenge Day 11, Read what I read…


As a writer, and composition instructor, I am always looking for essays to use in my classes.  I start every term with Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Drafts. And I read it every term. Lamott’ s tone sets the stage for a less stressful semester for my students – wow she’s written books and she feels like this!

It’s good medicine for students, especially those who are insecure about their writing skills.

It’s good medicine for me. It’s easy to forget that writing is demanding, all-consuming, hard. It’s easy to forget that those first words are never polished—for anyone. We all write shitty first drafts, and then move on.

As I read the “Masters,” I think about that. Did Shakespeare write shitty first drafts? Marlowe? Swift? Mark Twain? I wonder what their process was like—is there something I could learn from it?

Another piece I use regularly is David Sedaris’ Six to Eight Black Men. It’s easy for me to tell students this is how you write an essay with a frame, this is how you braid an essay, this is how you create a story with a beginning, middle, and end; but Sedaris masterfully does all of these things in this essay and it is plain to see. Well, actually, hear. I play audio from YouTube.

Students listen and laugh, and then we talk. What is his thesis? Who is his audience? Exactly what is he saying? Each time I play it for a class, I come back to my own writing and look for the undertones—the innuendo…

Over the years, I have been told that there are two ways to improve your writing: to write and to read (or listen in the case of Six to Eight Black Men). And that’s true. Finding that perfect turn of phrase, that perfect frame, or braid, or metaphor demands that I return to my own shitty first drafts and work it out…

I have read dozens of books about the craft of writing and I have only found two that I would recommend to others, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (which contains Shitty First Drafts) and Stephen King’s On Writing. Because they’re real. Neither is about mechanics, but rather the focus is on the day to day activity that demands a writer return to the page and try again to communicate, to tell the story, to have impact—even if it’s just on one person; it’s worthwhile, satisfying. Writing is not a job, it is a vocation. And it’s one that requires digging to the depths of who we are individually, and as a culture, civilization…

So, for today’s MNINB challenge, I offer Shitty First Drafts and Six to Eight Black Men. Enjoy.

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