The good kind of shitty

something to try

So that is my collage poem/art about home.

Don’t spend any time trying to figure out something nice you can say about it in the comments. I know it’s not good. It is not at all what I could see in my head as I was making it. And that’s OK. I’m even going to call it more than OK.

Somewhere around the time I laid down some crappy-ass Sharpie on the houses, I knew it wasn’t going to be what I hoped. I thought about chucking all the houses and starting over, but one thing that came to mind was Anne Lamott’s famous words about shitty first drafts.

I was feeling fairly paralyzed until I started thinking of this collage as a first draft. I mean, I really wanted my whole houses from maps and collage poem about houses thingy to work out differently. When I realized it was going to be crap, I contemplated starting over with it. But then I started remembering Ira Glass’s words about being a beginner. I’ve referenced them before, but today I’m going to put (some of) them right in front of you:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

(One of many sources for this here.)

If I waited to share this until I had the skill to make it match the vision in my head, I could be doing nothing else for a very long time. (And not sharing for a very long time.) But, once I was able to think of it as a shitty first draft, I was able to finish it and let it go.

Let’s look at it again. Like all first drafts, there are some glints of promise. Some sparkles of potential. But, let’s not deny how it is also, right now, pretty damn shitty:

something to try

I look at this, and I know Glass’s words are true, and sometimes this truth is disheartening.

When I was parenting younger children, I just didn’t have enough time to do a huge volume of creative work. (And that’s a truth, too, despite all the creative gurus out there who tell you that if you want it bad enough, you’ll make the time. Don’t believe me? Read Kelly Diels’s piece on time confetti, and then let’s talk.) Although my kids are less time-intensive than they once were and are preparing to leave my nest, I still have heavy time commitments to others.

But here are some other true words, too, that my friend Alexandra shared on Facebook over the weekend:

“When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old.”

I don’t use “old” as a pejorative, but there’s a certain kind of old I want to be. I want to be the kind of older person who never stops starting.

And who never quits.

That’d be the shit.


17 thoughts on “The good kind of shitty

  1. Kate says:

    I love how you say your going to use this place to play and think and then you ACTUALLY use this place to play and think. It’s inspiring. (And yes, to Kelly Diehl. That blog post was amazingly eye opening – and a little guilt inducing which I realize is the exact opposite point of the whole damn thing, but it is.)

    I have those Ira Glass words printed and pasted in a journal somewhere. I’m also starting to acknowledge that there will be some creative endeavors that end in shit no matter how I practice.

    Also…I know you said we shouldn’t try to say nice things, so I’m not going to try. I’m just going to say what first came to my mind…I really liked the lines “you could do all of these things…for yourself” And the two meanings of “for yourself” – without needing someone else to do them for you and/or to carve out room for your own soul.
    Kate recently posted…BitsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh yeah–there are some creative endeavors I will never be any good at, either–but I like the idea that we can all get there if we have good taste and practice a lot! There are some I don’t care enough about to put in the time. I will never create beautiful cakes. I will (alas!) never knit as beautifully as you and Marian do. I will not sew clothing as well as my mom once did for me.

      Thank you for the nice things you said, even though you were trying not to. 🙂

  2. Marian says:

    I had never before read Anne Lamott’s take on first drafts, but this is certainly my experience with writing (in all its forms: school essays, letters, blog posts, stories, etc) and it’s something I tell my kids all the time — you need to have something to edit before you can actually edit. I think the thing I struggle with when reading her words on writing is the undeniable fact that she is already a WRITER! This is her job, one she presumably (somehow or another) “trained for”, and for which she is paid. She therefore has every incentive to get to those second and third drafts. I completely own up to the fact that I am likely going to be coming off as having a case of sour-grape-itis, but I often find myself not only disheartened by words like hers (and Ira Glass’s) but annoyed as well. The reality is one can spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours honing their writing, their story, their novel (at the expense of so much else in their life), only to have it all come to naught. And I know that people write for a myriad of reasons, but surely most people who manage to write and re-write and re-write again want to see their words read? But when that doesn’t happen, at what point does one stop (because it feels like nothing more than flogging a dead horse), and does the decision to stop necessarily mean one must from then on in call themselves a “quitter”? (Sigh, maybe only a non-writer would ask these questions…)

    I love Kate’s take on the two meanings of “for yourself” … and I also love the lines “start for a warm home; They are bright like sunlight.” I actually think the collage is not entirely shitty, and I hope — if you’ve enjoyed the process, and if you’re still holding on to that vision of how it “should have” turned out — that you give yourself the time and chance to make a second draft.
    Marian recently posted…—ingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      “The reality is one can spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours honing their writing, their story, their novel (at the expense of so much else in their life), only to have it all come to naught.” These words of yours stopped me. I keep wondering, What does ‘come to naught’ mean? I see you acknowledging that people write for many reasons–but I’m wondering what your reasons are.

      This is a question I’ve wrestled mightily with over the years. I’ve come to a place of peace with it. I’m happy just to write in this space. I’m happy to have few (but loyal and thoughtful) readers. I’d rather have only a few of the right kind than hordes of those I feel no connection to. And you know–you are a writer. Just look at the response to your last post.

      For whatever it’s worth, I think there’s a big difference between quitting and stopping. I stopped working on the collage I shared–but I haven’t quit. Already working on the 2.0 version… 🙂

      • Marian says:

        I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child, but I didn’t actually do any writing until my 30s, when we were living in Minnesota. I wrote 3 novels during those 11 years — the first was dreck, but the next two had potential. I was still working on them when we moved back to Canada, but I “allowed” my life to be taken over by this house. I simply couldn’t write while surrounded by the chaos of renovations, and I also took on many of the renovation jobs myself so time itself became a factor. It was during this time that I discovered blogs. I am (have always been) all about “productivity” — creating tangible things. Knitted socks and braided rugs are like crack cocaine for me. So having my own blog — where my words would be “published” and possibly actually read (by someone other than myself) seemed a good way to feed that need for the tangible. I would be “writing” again, it would be a way to share my passions (about the environment and “home”, for example), and maybe, just maybe, I could do something towards (ahem) “saving the world” (and that’s said in a COMPLETELY idealistic/earnest NON-narcissistic/NON-arrogant way). I have absolutely loved the way blogging/commenting has allowed me to become part of this wonderful community you’ve created (all my readers are also your readers), and I love when I get a post “right” — when I’ve strung words together which have caused someone to laugh or which have perhaps sparked some deep thinking … but always, always, always in the back of my mind are those novels that I left behind …
        Marian recently posted…—ingMy Profile

        • Rita says:

          I have been coming back to this comment in my thoughts again and again since reading it. I think I need a whole post to adequately address it. My first instinct is to say: “Go get those novels! Don’t leave them behind!” but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I need a bit more time to formulate my thoughts on this. And as for community–it is as much yours as mine. In every way.

  3. Josh Klauder says:

    I also loved the line about doing these things for yourself. It just jumped out and hit me in a very meaningful way. You’ve done a piece of good writing about a semi-shitty project. I am a lifelong map-aholic, and I have also always been a bit fascinated by the concept that who you are and the space you live in are intertwined things. So – houses made of maps!! My house would be wallpapered with maps if it were not so small that I need every square foot of wall space for shelves and hanging things. A map is like a fine painting that you can wander off into an endless number of times, each time a little different. A house made of maps, of dreams, of journeys, of potential adventures, of exploration. A very cool thought exercise. Thanks!

    • Rita says:

      Thank you so much for saying that I did good writing about a semi-shitty project. I think if I can get a good piece of writing out of my projects, they never feel like a waste of time to me. And I was hoping that this was a good post–I guess to redeem myself for the shitty project. To have evidence that I can do some creative things right. 🙂

      I had about abandoned the idea of using maps, but now your words have me thinking I need to not give up on them so fast. I’ll have to make another trip to our salvaged art supply store soon to see if I can find maps that will work better for me. I love the way you’ve written about what maps can mean.

  4. Josh Klauder says:

    @Marian – I once took a course in magazine writing, from which I learned a lot. But by far the most memorable moment in the class came when a student asked the professor “How do you know if you are a writer?” His answer, paraphrasing here, was: “How do you know if you are a breather?”

  5. Kari says:

    That video is amazing.
    I also love your artwork/poem even though you said not to comment on it.
    I have a lot of shitty rough drafts that become posts, as you know and it is fine by me.
    Life is a rough draft, really, for something much better I believe.

    • Rita says:

      Clarification: I didn’t say you couldn’t comment on my crappiness–just didn’t want anyone to feel they must say something nice. 🙂 I will always (always always) take expressions of love.

      I am actually not sure how I feel about that video. I kinda wanted to slap the smugness off some of those younguns faces the first time I watched it. But I really appreciated the words of the older folks, and the intention behind the piece as a whole. Have been trying to wrap my head around aging for awhile now…

  6. May says:

    Great video. I believe we all benefit when our world is multi-generational.

    I didn’t think your art was all that bad for a first draft. It is through our less than perfect that we are best able to learn and grow.

  7. Gretchen says:

    Glitters of promise for sure. I like where you’re headed with this. Re: creative work and young children: There’s an essay by Anne Tyler called “Still Just Writing,” which, as far as I can tell , is only available in an anthology of essays by women writers about being women writers (from the late 70s or early 80s, I believe). I dug it up at the library and read it in grad school and haven’t since, so I’m probably remembering it all wrong….but I was delighted by how matter of fact she was about what it’s like to raise kids and write. Basically just, “well, it’s really hard for awhile. But then they go to school and gets a little easier.” I just looked around and found some excerpts online: “our first baby came along — an insomniac. I quit work and stayed home all day with her and walked her all night. Even if I had found the time to write, I wouldn’t have had the insides. I felt drained; too much care and feeling were being drawn out of me….I enjoyed tending infants (although I’ve much preferred the later ages), but it was hard to be solely, continually in their company and not be able to write.” and then “”After the children started school, I put up partitions in my mind. I would rush around in the morning braiding their hair, packing their lunches; then the second they were gone I would grow quiet and climb the stairs to my study. Sometimes a child would come home early and I would feel a little tug between the two parts of me; I’d be absent-minded and short-tempered. Then gradually I learned to make the transition more easily. It feels like a sort of string that I tell myself to loosen. When the children come home, I drop the string and close the study door and that’s the end of it. It doesn’t work perfectly, of course. There are times when it doesn’t work at all: if a child is sick, for instance, I can’t possibly drop the child’s end of the string, and I’ve learned not to try. It’s easier to stop writing for awhile. Or if they’re home but otherwise occupied, I no longer attempt to sneak off to my study to finish that one last page; I know that instantly, as if by magic, assorted little people will be pounding on my door requiring Band-Aids, tetanus shots, and a complete summation of the facts of life.”

    • Rita says:

      I’ve long loved this essay. I have it in a book called First Person Singular (©1983, Ontario Review Press, edited by Joyce Carol Oates). There are essays by men in this collection, but it was the essays by women that I read and re-read in the 80’s when I was in college. Of course, her words about mothering were all an abstraction to me then. I didn’t even focus on what she was saying about being a writer and a mother; I thought the essay was about the idea others had that writing wasn’t that important. It seemed even she did not think it was that important: “They’re paying me for this? For just writing down untruthful stories? I’d better look around for more permanent employment. For I do consider writing to be a finite job. I expect that any day now, I will have said all I have to say; I’ll have used up all my characters, and then I’ll be free to get on with my real life.” I suspect she was being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not sure. Re-reading her does bring to mind another essay I read online a few years back, about how so many women writers are able to be so only because they are supported by their husbands. I’ve seen that over and over again in the writers I know. ( I wonder if she was able to be almost glib because she didn’t have the economic struggle some women who want to write do?

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