Friday, November 20, 2009

Guest Post: Lynda McDaniel author of Words at Work

Lynda McDaniel, author of the book Words at Work, stopped by to share with us a piece she wrote.

Terrible First Drafts

Lynda McDaniel

For years, I felt embarrassed that I was a self-taught writer. The word “writer” just stuck in my throat. Who was I to call myself a writer? I was an impostor, and I had the proof: My first drafts were terrible. Abysmal, really.

Somehow I kept writing in spite of this self-talk, but it wasn’t easy. Especially since doubts about my writing attracted critics like flies to stink. This negativity might have caused me to give up on my writing career, but from somewhere inside I heard “Non carborundum illegitimus.” So, I kept writing.

When you face negative comments, either internal or external, ponder the criticisms and plow ahead anyway. So what if something you wrote isn’t a candidate for a Pulitzer? Have you ever seen early Woody Allen movies? Or listened to Mozart’s first sonata? (Okay, he was only seven years old, but still…) You have to cut your teeth where you currently are. And hang in there long enough to have a breakthrough, like I did in the mid-1990s.

That’s when I read a new book: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. All those years of agonizing over my embarrassingly bad first drafts, and in an instant I was cured. What I learned from Anne is that just about everyone writes terrible first drafts. Who knew?

Anne gave me permission to let myself go. Now, I allow the words to come any way they want (a real boost to creativity) because I know I can fix them later. All you have to do is write and write. Just get your ideas down. You can always go back two, five, fifteen times and make them better with each edit. In fact, don’t think of your first draft as writing—it falls more under the planning/organization phase than writing. Capture that jumble of thoughts so you can wrestle with it and turn it into something great.

I see the process of writing similar to that of making a good loaf of bread. At first, all the ingredients you pull together are lumpy (rough draft). With a little mixing and kneading, it becomes smooth and elastic (editing). Next, it’s time to let it rest (take a break). Come back later and punch it down (edit again), and let it rest again. Just before baking, brush it with a little egg wash for a shiny crust (final polish).

Early on, I served loaves of bread that could have doubled as doorstops. With practice, I got better at it. Same with writing. Thinking you should be able to sit down and write something wonderful is like expecting a wet glob of flour, water, and yeast to bake into a delicious loaf of bread. It doesn’t happen that way. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes work. I still mentally thank Anne Lamott for sharing this insight. And today, I can help my students and clients (and readers of Words at Work) relax enough to write their terrible first drafts, though it takes some soothing and coaxing. But when they get it, they thank me too. Pass it on.

About the book:

In her latest book—Words at Work—Lynda McDaniel shares tools and techniques she developed over her long career as a writer and business writing coach.

Not taught in school

Words at Work helps fill in the gap between what’s taught in school and what’s needed on the job. Many topics covered in Words at Work are very different from those in most business writing books.

About Lynda:

Lynda McDaniel loves to get people fired up about writing. Whether she’s coaching, training, or writing books, she digs into her satchel of proven techniques and personal experiences to help them increase their confidence and catapult their creativity. As they work together, her clients can better access their own problem-solving and creative-thinking skills and draw from their strengths and stories—the ones that set them apart from the rest and help them excel at work.

In August 2009, Lynda published her latest book, Words at Work: Powerful business writing delivers increased sales, improved results and even a promotion or two. It draws on her lifetime of writing books, articles, and business documents with essays and instruction. More than how to dot Is and cross Ts, Words at Work teaches readers how to think big and write big. It explores how to mine their creativity and write their ideas in an organized and compelling way so that they can persuade, sell, teach, improve, guide, explain, change, contribute, motivate, praise, recommend, propose, and create.

Her next book is entitled Words at Work-Book. The companion to Words at Work, it takes readers deeper into the fundamentals of good writing. (Available fall 2009.) Too often today, business writing is like the literary equivalent of fast food: slapped together, full of fat, and hard to digest. Through interesting, short quizzes, and fun exercises, readers refresh their understanding of grammar, punctuation, and style. And by the time they finish Words at Work-Book, they’ll be ready to write letters that get results, documents that demand attention, and proposals that persuade.

In 2005, she created and produced Compelling Communications, a series of business-writing seminars. Her coaching and seminar clients include the City of Seattle, Cutter & Buck, First Choice Health, Kroll Security, Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Seneca Real Estate Group, Sound Inpatients Physicians, T-Mobile, U.S. Small Business Administration, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington, and YMCA.

She brings bring more than 25 years of writing experience to her seminars, presentations and books. National companies I’ve written for include DuPont, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Georgia Institute of Technology. Her long career as a journalist includes feature articles for magazines and newspapers such as Law & Politics, Associations Now, Southern Living, Country Living, Yoga Journal, University of Chicago Magazine, Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Seattle Post-Intelligencer,, and

Lynda spent years learning how to write and tell great stories, and she loves to share all the tools and tips she’s learned along the way. And she still writes, every day. She has an unflagging commitment to both the science and art of writing. and Or


Sun Singer said...

Growing up, it was easy to imagine the great writers creating perfect stories at 100 words a minute and then sending them off to Colliers or Atlantic of Harpers and getting a check. How refreshing to find out the quality of the first draft didn't matter.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

All posted at Win a Book, babe!

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