To crush your first draft, you’ll need these skills.

To crush your first draft, you’ll need these skills.

This year, my husband gave me The Adventure Challenge: Couples Edition for Christmas. Each adventure is a scratch-off mystery we must commit to before learning about it.

I loved it. Growing up, my favorite sentence was let’s go on an adventure. It still is. 

Our first adventure was “The Blind Baker.” During the challenge, we had to bake a pie from scratch, but only one person could do the baking. Oh, and they had to be blindfolded. The other had to direct the baker using their hands and a mere three sentences. The person with the least skills had to do the baking. 

I suck at crusts but shine when it comes to fillings. Mark is an expert crust maker, so we split the tasks. 

By the end, we were both covered in gluten-free flour, but the results speak for themselves.

Baking a pie while blindfolded is a lot like writing a first draft. It’s messy. You’re not exactly sure what’s you’re doing, and while you can consult some great guides along the way, you must trust the process.

First drafts have been given many names. Anne Lamott coined the term “shitty first draft” in her namesake essay in Bird by Bird. In Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book Allison K. Williams calls it the vomit draft. She shares a tweet by Jenny Elder Moke, author of Hood, in the first chapter of the Vomit Draft section that helps us see this process as more than word pooping or regurgitation. 

“Y’all stop calling your first draft garbage. Garbage is what you throw out when you’re done with a meal. What you have there is a grocery run—a collection of items that will eventually make a cohesive meal once you figure out which flavors go together.”  

Grocery runs are about gathering supplies, not generating trash (although I will always love Anne Lamott’s phrase because a. swearing, b. funny, and c. Anne Lamott). 

While collecting your groceries is the task you want to spend the most time on, it’s important to determine what you’ll bring with you to the store. For example, if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight or eat a healthier diet, arriving with a full stomach and carrying a list will help you achieve those goals. 

The same is true when writing a first draft—or really any draft—because our job is to approach every writing task with a beginner’s mind. 

Seven Drafts includes a succinct set of pithy strategies you can bring along, like commitment, inspiration, realistic expectations, and most importantly, time management. 

Allison tells you to write first. That means ignoring your inboxes and the dishes. As you do this, get excited by thinking about stories, reading widely in your genre, and recording your momentary bursts of genius on scraps of paper or in your phone. 

More importantly, she reminds us that priority means one thing

“Sure, your priorities may change as you shift from your art self to your family self or from office to the studio to your home. But at any given time, you can only have one priority. Pick one and pick its purpose.” 

When you know your priority and its purpose, you’re more likely to commit to it. 

Once you’ve identified your priority, take tiny steps forward, and I would add, celebrate the fuck out of each one. 

As a coach, I regularly work with writers who want to set ambitious goals that include regular three-hour writing dates and aggressive word counts. But most can’t pull this off, even when they have oodles of free time. 

These writers give me cross-eyed looks when I encourage them to tamp down their expectations and set smaller goals. But I know this works.

It’s better to crush a small goal than to almost reach a lofty one. For example, if you commit to writing for five minutes per day, five days per week, and end up writing for six or seven, you’ll feel amazing. But set a goal of five forty-five-minute sessions per week, and you’ll see failure if you only write for four thirty-minute sessions.

Small steps can result in big successes. 

Allison illustrates this in Seven Drafts by sharing something Andre Dubus III revealed during a writing workshop she attended. 

“Dubus III wrote House of Sand and Fog after his three kids were born. He and his wife both worked full time and hours outside of work were focused on parenting. He taught as an adjunct at several schools and picked up construction work on the side. How did he write?

Seventeen minutes at a time.”

He left for work twenty minutes early and arrived home twenty minutes late. In those intervening minutes, he wrote in a nearby cemetery.

Those seventeen-minute sessions resulted in a New York Times bestseller that won a National Book Award and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film.  

What will you do with your seventeen minutes?

To glean more of Allison’s wisdom from the Vomit Draft, buy her book. Next month, I’ll share one of her gems from the Story Draft that will change how you begin your project.  


Want to nail your New Years Resolutions? It all comes down to this.

Want to nail your New Years Resolutions? It all comes down to this.

Happy New Year!
A major snowstorm hit Virginia on Monday, knocking out the internet to much of Charlottesville. I spent the time I would normally use on my newsletter to look through social media friends’ posts about New Year’s resolutions and 2022 goals. 
The beginning of the year is a great time for launching new projects and setting goals. Last year, I wrote about the importance of envisioning your success. In 2019, I shared the five questions that can help you (re)define your writing life. Both are still relevant, but this year I want to talk about something I learned that can make or break your goals.
It all started with a photo shoot.
Well, it really started with all the ways I avoided scheduling a photo shoot for nearly three years. 
Without realizing it, I’d become photo-reluctant in middle age, much like my mother. Maybe it was the bad selfies I took—you know the ones with the faces you thought looked good but didn’t? Or perhaps it was something about finally looking my age that made me camera shy. 

I’ve known for years that professional headshots were in order. But I kept waiting for that magical day when I was well-rested, had salon-perfect hair and lines smoothed by that miracle cream I’ve yet to discover. On that special day, those pesky few pounds that hang around like a bad friend or elevator fart would be gone.
I finally scheduled a photo shoot in early 2020. Two weeks before my appointment, we entered the pandemic lockdown. I could’ve rescheduled over the summer, but I’d stopped dying my hair, which gave me yet another reason to delay.
After my Website Relaunch and Redesign webinar with Jane Friedman, I decided to dig a little deeper, and soon discovered the obvious: fear of what the camera might capture held me back. Unwilling to let fear win, I scheduled a new photo shoot.
It happened at the worst possible time. I had a broken finger. We’d recently experienced a death in the family. An identity theft issue had resulted in hours of phone calls to credit card companies. All of this made sleep elusive and I’d yet to find that magic eye cream or shed my pandemic weight gain. 
But I committed to showing up anyway. 
Hours before the shoot, I pulled this card from my Osho Zen tarot deck: 


Fun was the one thing I needed. It was also the last thing I’d considered in the run-up to this experience.

When I arrived at Sarah Cramer Shield’s photographer’s studio, I told her about recent events and my intention for this session. Then I flipped off the camera and we spent the next hour in a state of playful abandon. Every few shots, Sarah said, “there she is” and smiled. 

I cried when I received my pictures. For the past three years, I’d feared the flaws the camera would reveal. Not once had I considered the best self the photographer would capture. But there she is.  


And I’m grateful she showed up.
This leads me to the resolutions we’re all writing. While setting goals and intentions are important, what really matters is how you see yourself. When you look in the mirror do you see a king or queen or something else? 
What you see impacts the goals you choose, how you approach them, and what you allow yourself to achieve. 
So, how do you see yourself? 
Not sure? Here are a few exercises you can try. 
Exercise One: The Mirror Trick
Look at yourself in the mirror. While focusing on your eyes, say, “I love you” to your image. Can’t do it? That’s okay. I couldn’t even say “I” the first twelve times I tried this exercise. Do it every day for a month, then do one loving thing for yourself and see what happens. 
Exercise Two: Celebrate, Explore, and Release
This is a modified version of an exercise I read in a recent newsletter from Marie Forleo

  1. Write down what you accomplished in 2021 and then celebrate each item.
  2. Write down one mistake you made and what you learned from it. 
  3. Write down all the things you need to let go of. Then, get honest about the ones you’re ready to release. Write your release items on a piece of paper, then burn it. Place the ones you’re not ready to release in an envelope or a box you can revisit later in the year.

Exercise Three: Schedule Your Own Photography Session

You don’t need to hire a photographer to do this. Schedule some time with someone who brings you joy. Agree to take silly and serious pictures of each other. You can use the video option on your phone or take speed shots to capture your best look. Smile, flip the camera off, wear a crown. Do whatever conjures a sense of play and the person taking your picture will look up and say, “there you are.” And when you look at those pictures, you’ll find your best self. 

Print that picture and look at it every day. Seeing your best self will allow you to be your best self, and that, my friends, is how you’ll achieve your goals.

So what do you love about yourself? Let me know so I can create a list of attributes for next week’s newsletter. 

I celebrate you and your best self, which is always there, even if you can’t see it. 

And as always, write on.



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