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Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to make good work

I just came across two pieces of writing (by Jonathan Lethem and Anne Lamott respectively -- hat tap to Parabasis for bringing them to my attention) that put into words what I happen to think are the two elements key to making strong work. Namely:

1. Rip people off. With no shame.
2. Write shitty first drafts.

If I was going to boil down my approach to making work, those would be the two essential steps. Blatantly copy the work of artists you admire (you might as well do it blatantly since you will be doing it regardless) and put something -- anything -- out there, so you have a thing to work with, not the angst of your fretful second-guessing mind.

I love this paragraph from Anne Lamott's book:

The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it rompall over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape itlater. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, "Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?," you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go -- but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

So true.

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