Living the first draft

I posted this on a previous blog. It’s come to my mind again in recent weeks.

Sometimes I wonder . . . Did someone ever say to Mozart, “Ya know what, Wolfgang? I think that should be two quarter notes instead of one half note.”

  • Have you ever been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “I should have said this . . .”?
  • Or perhaps you said the absolutely worst thing possible only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?
  • Or maybe you have thought, “If I could do that over again, I’d do it differently.”?

We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is key. Writers can’t believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows. We’d never get anything done, we’d be so frozen with apprehension.

A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we choose hurtful ones.

Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair could be on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we manage only sweatpants and a washed face.

Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it with wise, rational choices. But sometimes we solve problems with beer and a whiskey chaser.

We can’t edit our lives before publication, and that means our words and actions won’t sprinkle gracefully in perfect pearly rows. We have to live our delightfully shitty first draft and forgive ourselves for it.

Because one mediocre mess of a life out there is better than a perfect pearly one hidden. 

Rose petals scattered across an light pine hardwood floor.
Scattered rose petals. A beautiful mess.

11 thoughts on “Living the first draft

  1. marianbeaman

    Arlene, lots of pearls of wisdom here, especially this: “We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.” Recently, I had that thought as I spoke to a friend with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. But he knows I care.

    I’ll share this. Great work, Arlene! 😀

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Marian. And I understand how difficult it is to find the words with someone facing a touch road. “They” say that all we need to do is be with someone in times like that, and that’s true, but the silences can stretch pretty long sometimes, and the words we find to fill aren’t always what a scriptwriter would choose. But as you say, the caring can be felt too – louder than words.

  2. Ally Bean

    Hear, hear! I like your point of view. I once was a perfectionist who worried all the time about not making a mess of things, but now have adopted a more relaxed view of life. Which is to say, life is messy but I do my best to clean it up with caring words.

  3. roughwighting

    I LOVE THIS POST! If it’s alright, I’d like to share it with my writing class (of adults). I keep encouraging them to feel free to write shitty drafts/stories/vignettes/essays. We gotta get it down and let it go. Same with life. Just LIVE and know it won’t be perfect – it’s not supposed to. But oh how lucky we are to live our imperfect lives. xoxo ❤

  4. karen

    Love this Arlene. Our best life is often found schlepping around in the muck, making mistakes and missteps. Makes for great conversations.


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