ProTip: Always Assign “Shitty First Drafts”


Rhiannon Goad

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If you’ve had the pleasure to read it then you probably teach it.

Our sister site, the DWRL Lesson Plans Library, is full of all kinds of gems. But my most successful lesson plan is too simple for me to post over there. Directions: (1) assign Anne Lamott’s "Shitty First Drafts" from from Bird by Bird, (2) watch your students as they start to think about writing as process rather than product, and (3) prepare yourself for “this-is-why-I-do-this” feels.

Lamott's short essay discusses overcoming insecurities through revision, failure as a means to success. It’s funny account of perfectionism, an honest reflection on process.

After assigning this essay, you’ll immediately see an improvement in your students' writing. Over the upcoming months, you’ll start to see a real change in how some students approach writing altogether.

I’ve lost count of how many times students remarked, often weeks after I initially assigned it, that “Shitty First Drafts” totally changed the way perceive the task of writing or that it helped them imagine themselves as writers. Recently, I had a former student tell me that reading "Shitty First Drafts" helpd him deal with some pretty serious anxiety when it came to writing essays.

Not convinced? Conider these two passages: 

Students always point out this one: “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.” #amen 

My personal favorite: “The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I'd obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I'd worry that people would read what I'd written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.” #same

Try it. Let me know how it works out for you.  


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