Forgive yourself: you are living your first draft

Life is not a dress rehearsal.

Life IS a dress rehearsal. At least I hope so.

How many times have you been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “If only I had said this . . .”?

How many times have you said the absolutely worst thing you could have said only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?

How many time have you thought, “If I had my life to live over again, I’d do that differently.”?

We all do it. We live on the fly.

How can we be flawless when we can’t rehearse? If only we could edit ourselves, right?

Anne Lamott advises writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is the key to writing. If writers believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows, but they can’t do that themselves, they freeze. They tell themselves they can’t write. Their hands hover over the keyboard while the blank page taunts them. Writer’s block sets in.

Writing a shitty first draft gets an idea out there.  A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

After all, no one needs to see it, and once we alchemize an idea from thought to the printed word, we chisel away at it, rearrange it, and polish it to a gleaming shine. We ask our friends for advice and incorporate their ideas. We consult professionals if we need extra help. Even after all that, we still miss some errors. (If you find a typo in this, I don’t want to know.)

We don’t have the privilege of living our lives that way.

Everyone sees our first draft. Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we want to rewind our words back into ours mouths like videotape. Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair would be at home on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we meet old boyfriends when we’ve run to the store in our sweats before our shower in the morning. Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it all with a series of wise, rational choices. But sometimes we use the beer-with-a-whiskey-chaser problem solving method.

How can always do and say the right thing when we can’t rehearse?

Our words and actions don’t sprinkle gracefully onto the page of life 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. 

4 thoughts on “Forgive yourself: you are living your first draft

  1. dorothyanneb

    Oh, I needed this this morning!! Or maybe I just need a beer with whiskey chaser. Research shows it makes you smarter…..;-)

  2. frankoshanko

    Thanks for the reminder! If we simply keep trying to do our best, we’ve done what we can. I’ve wasted time in regret because hindsight claimed I could have done better, but I needed to appreciate that I did the best I could at the time. And I did fine. Others did their best too, even though it ultimately wasn’t what I would have preferred. Ce’st la vie!

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Yes, it’s hard not to let regret creep in sometimes, but if we catch ourselves wasting time on it, then we can try to change our perspective and move on. Worry and regret – two big time wasters.


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