James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

50: Drafts

I picked up this book over last weekend and dug into it quickly, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s all about writing, process, and how that relates to life with charming anecdotes sprinkled about. I’m about halfway through it (at least that’s what it seems like with the virtual notion of “book pages” on these new fangled e-books). A chapter that continually made me drag my digital highlighter (finger?) over multiple paragraphs and send screenshots to friends with the caption “!!!” was during the chapter on first drafts.

First drafts suck. It’s the equivalent of getting a wax on the hairiest part of your body. How hard it hurts and how much it feels like a giant truck about to smack you in the middle of the face but you keep on keeping on because you’re a stubborn punk that decides to write for a good chunk of your career. At least my mind goes through this monologue every moment I smack my head during the first paragraph of each week’s newsletter.

That first draft is child’s play, the part that no one at all sees but you. It’s that finger painting you won’t show your friends. It’s that joke that you keep to yourself and laugh about it while walking to the train. It’s that collection of one-liners that stays in private and eventually gets filled out with the potatoes and vegetables of cohesive sentences and thoughts. It feels good then you roll with it–that feeling of “whoa, this feels really nice, I guess I don’t hate myself for writing after all.” That feeling never comes the moment you sit down, you gotta dig through the quicksand of that first draft.

How do you know when something is done? There’s no exact way to know. Maybe it’s once the coffee has settled cold or the ice in your whiskey is melted. No one has ever left a desk in complete satisfaction and said, “I declare this piece completely finished." No. So why should you treat writing or art-making as such? It’s a constant process, never-ending pruning, intense massaging, but it all begins with that first draft before you reach the final draft.

What first draft you are churning through? Let me know and hit reply.

Thanks for reading,

-James

What did I find interesting this week?

  1. Jungle: Drake made an experimental art film and I really dig it.

  2. This Company Eliminated Email…and Nothing Bad Happened: Email’s cool and all, like for personalized newsletters like this, but a lot of it’s cruft. Rethink email.

  3. The Art of Stillness: “‘Sitting still,’ writes Pico Iyer in The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, is ‘a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.’”

James T. Green