The Shitty First Draft: A Powerful Approach to Avoid Perfection

In her book, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott introduces the concept of “shitty first drafts”1:

All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.

Most people assume that great authors write quickly and effortlessly. But according to Lamott, that’s not true.

Not even the best and most successful authors write elegant first drafts. They all start with a Shitty First Draft and then rewrite it until it’s excellent.

I’ve found this insight to be very helpful in my own writing. It removes the pressure to get everything right on the first try and makes it much easier to get started.

Pretty much every article I’ve written, including the one you’re reading right now, started out as a huge mess.

But every shitty first draft was a critical first step. It’s what allowed me to get moving, revise, and end up with something useful.

And you don’t have to be a writer to benefit from this approach. It’s applicable any time you’re starting something from scratch.

  • If you want to move more, don’t look for an optimal workout routine. Instead, begin with just a few basic exercises.
  • If you want to eat healthier, don’t research the ideal diet. Instead, start with just one simple recipe.
  • If you want to get more done, don’t install a fully-fledged productivity system. Instead, begin with a quick weekly planning ritual.

Start first and optimize later — not the other way around. Always begin with a shitty first draft, and over time, everything will fall into place.

Footnote

  1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott