Creating is Editing

A theme that comes up a lot here is how much fun brainstorming is or how design gets confused with idea generation or how people will keep generating new ideas to stave off the work that it takes to execute an idea. A lot of artists and inventors speak or write about this phenomenon because they experience it.

Writer Anne Lamott offers a remedy and some myth-busting on this phenomenon in her book about writing called Bird by Bird in which she describes the necessity of writing “shitty first drafts” :

“…Shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third ones. People tend to look at successful writers…and think that they sit down at their desks every morning…feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves…and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.”

This fantasy runs deep in our culture and affects how we look at and even talk about artists and inventors. “They are so talented,” we say as if creativity is a thing that some people are just born with rather than something that they work hard for.

Artists and Inventors know that creativity is about rolling up their sleeves and executing the work. Shittily at first which is terrifying. But shitty first drafts is where it has to start. We aren’t perfect out of the gate.

Lorne Michaels, producer of SNL says, “It has to be bad before it can be good. Dress rehearsal is bad before it’s good.” Amen.

Artists and inventors and writers and actors, they don’t get it right the first time. They get it wrong. Sometimes horribly wrong. But they are disciplined enough and brave enough to start. They sit their butt in the seat and write the shitty first draft and then begin the work of editing. They know from experience that this is how the work gets done.


Anne Lamott: 12 things I learned from life and writing