How to Start a S#!tty First Draft

I’ve heard this concept for a while and I finally read what I believe is the first reference to a S#!tty First Draft (SFD) in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Of course, I got stuck on a blank page in Word and was trying to figure out how to start a SFD. Blank white space is intimidating. The last two posts I published, one on my dog and one on creating your reality, have received a bunch of great feedback. I get caught up in the, “How am I going to follow that one up?” When you see hundreds of people across the world have read your post, it can either be emboldening or utterly intimidating. I can be haunted by thoughts like, “How dare I think I can follow that up.”

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So here we go. The how’s and why’s of the SFD:

Percolate.  I think of the old, dust-covered Hamilton Beach Percolator my mother would drag out and clean for bridge club in the mid 1960’s. Even if the end product is unpalatable and bitter, the process of filtering through and rethinking and mulling over is important. I started thinking about the SFD when I read Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong some four months ago. Yesterday, I read about it in Bird by Bird. I made notes. I took a shower. I washed my hair. I digested. I realize that, in retrospect, I do this with most of the topics I write about. Something piques my interest and then I let it sit and percolate. I need a little reflection to put the pieces together. So before you start your SFD, percolate a bit.

Start.  The problem with percolating is that it cannot stop there. Percolating can become ruminating. Obsessing. Procrastination. So sit down, whether it’s 6 AM or, as I sit here on the West Coast, my laptop reads: 9:07 AM PST/12:07 PM EST. Start. Open up a blank document. Start. Spill. Type. Don’t worry about another cup of coffee or if you are at your favorite desk with your fuzzy slippers on. Just start. If you wait for the perfect moment to arrive, it will remain elusive.

Sloppy.  I think we all have a bit of perfectionism inside of us. Some of us more overtly than others. I don’t iron my underwear but I do like a clear counter-top and I have a certain way I like the pillows on my couch. As Jason Lengstorf writes, “But there’s hesitation. What if it’s not exactly right? What if people judge your work too harshly? What if this idea isn’t as good as you thought? Small worries like these can lead to procrastination and unnecessary stress.” We get caught up in perfectionism. It won’t be perfect. It can never be perfect. So go for sloppy. Embrace the wabi-sabi.

Data.  Brene wrote in Rising Strong, “In the absence of data, you’ll make up a story.” Isn’t that the truth? I typically search a few terms like “SFD” or “letting go of perfectionism” to see what other data is out there. Who else has written about this? What are their thoughts? What other insights are out there? When searching SFD, I found a bunch of things on actual writing but this all can be applied to more than just writing. Gather the data on the project you want to start. Gather the data on the new knife set you want to buy. I’m not suggesting you turn this into the dreaded analysis paralysis but gather some data for your SFD.

Look.  Keep an eye out for Quantum Flirts.  I learned about Quantum Flirts at the ORSC training by CRR Global. Is the Universe winking at you? Are they sending an almost imperceptible or more overt “sign” that you need to take in? I have been mulling over starting a book for months…er…. years…maybe a decade. I saw Frances McDormand on the Oscars, when she asked every woman to stand up who was nominated and she said, “We all have stories to tell.” For me, this was a sign. I have a story to tell. Some fifty plus years in the making. I need to start telling that story. The Universe was giving me a sign that I need to start writing my book. I need to tell my story. Thank you, Frances.

End.  As Anne Lamott wrote, you need to have the end in mind before you start. How do you know where you are going unless you know the destination? My destination for this piece is for you, my reader, to get started. Whatever getting started means for you. Get out your sneakers and run for 30 seconds. Take one pile of papers off the end of the dining room table. Start that gnarly project you have been sitting on for months…perhaps years. Think about what the end-result will be, whether it’s feeling in better shape, finally decluttering your home or getting that project complete. It doesn’t have to be perfect or reasonable or perspiration-free. Start…with the end in mind.

I am really fortunate to have an excellent editor that makes my posts come together. Most of my posts are SFD’s with misspellings, grammatical errors and references that are incorrect. I dump on a page and hope my editor can make sense of it. This makes writing a SFD a lot easier because I know that Susan has my back and will fix my mistakes. Just start. Listen to Frances. What story do you want to tell? I know you have one.

Canada. It’s another country.

As I write this, it’s a rainy morning in Vancouver, British Columbia. I am here as an alumni to take the Path portion of ORSC (team and individual coaching), created by CRR Global. It’s been several decades since I have been to Vancouver. I am blessed in that, as a child, we took family trips to Canada and I had visited all the southern provinces of Canada by the time I was nine. As a kid, if everyone spoke the same language as I, I didn’t realize there were cultural differences. I remember the beautiful Butchart Gardens of Victoria and the profound crevasses of Banff National Park. And the adventure of the stretch of highway where there wasn’t gas for some 200 hundred miles and just praying we would make it with our enormous trailer that we were lugging behind us. Thankfully, we did.

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As I order at a restaurant or check in at the hotel, I wonder if I am obviously from the United States. Do they hear an accent? Do I dress funny? Am I clumsy? I say this because it’s hard for me to tell who is a tourist and who is a native. I just went to Starbucks for a coffee and ordered my usual. I assume those working there are Canadians. Are most of their patrons tourists? I have no idea. The differences here are subtle but there are differences that weren’t apparent to my nine-year-old self.

Here they are:

Celsius. Temperature is temperature. Whether or not you relate to it as Celsius or Fahrenheit, it doesn’t really matter, right? The funny thing is that when I found the thermostat in my room, I saw it read 22 degrees. Wow. We could hang meat in here. So of course, I had to google to convert the temperature to Fahrenheit – like it mattered. Why not just sense whether it’s too warm or too cool? The funny thing is that in my class yesterday, which was largely Canadians, someone said, “It must be 25 degrees in here.” She meant that it was hot. I chuckled to myself. I’m glad I knew she was talking Celsius.

Taxis.  Luckily, I happened to research whether or not Lyft or Uber were available in Vancouver. They are not. I’m not sure about the rest of Canada, but in British Columbia, you must take public transit or a taxi. In the last year or so, I have realized that renting a car is an expensive encumbrance when traveling on business. Between parking, gassing up and tolls, it is just one more burden, kind of like an extra suitcase, that you have to take care of and keep track of. Luckily, there wasn’t a language barrier, which is the biggest plus to ridesharing apps. But if you aren’t in a well-populated location, it can be impossible to find a cab. In fact, I didn’t go to a museum I had planned on visiting because I wasn’t sure how I would get back to the hotel.

Currency. The last time I was in Canada, my daughter and I were in Quebec. I was trying not to have any Canadian currency. I try not to have any cash in any foreign country because it’s a mess to exchange back. In fact, like the euros I have from my trip to Paris, they are still clanging around in my wallet. Too minuscule to change and more of a remembrance of a great trip. The last time I was in Canada was a road trip with my daughter four years ago. We were in Montreal and visited the breathtaking Notre-Dame Basilica. I remember they only took cash for entrance and they did take US dollars. The exchange was pretty poor but I didn’t care. As I travel around Vancouver at restaurants and shops, I am careful that they take credit cards so I don’t have to mess with exchange of currency and I keep a few US dollars for tipping.

Language. So we speak the same language but as I said, my class is largely Canadian. I would guess that 95% of the words are exactly the same. It’s only the odd “PROOO-cess” or “Aboot” that crop up in conversation. The other difference, at least compared to Eastern North Carolina, is the diversity. The service jobs in Vancouver seemed to be staffed with people from all walks of life – from an Irish waiter, to a Korean busboy to a Nigerian desk clerk. It feels as cosmopolitan as Manhattan. As I walk down the street, there all sorts of languages being spoken. Again, I’m not sure if I’m in the middle of the tourist district (think Times Square) or if there is an international university nearby. But it feels as if everyone is welcome here, regardless of origin.

Pace.  This is a large city. The thing that strikes me that is vastly different from a city like New York is that the pace is much more relaxed. Considering the blend of diversity and the size, it seems very calm. None of that frenetic buzz that seems to increase your anxiety. There is no rushing to and fro. My walking pace is even slower. For such a large city, it’s very calm.

Hot sauce.  If there is a minus, it’s the hot sauce. No Tabasco. No Texas Pete. No Cholula. There is British Columbian grown-and-produced Verde and Salsa Diablo. I tried it out. It was acidic. I realized after I read the label that besides having Canola Oil in the top three ingredients (re. mayonnaise…yuck) there is lemon juice. I am not a fan. But this is a minor complaint compared to the rest of my experience.

Rain.  I recently traveled to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It rained a lot. It has rained or drizzled almost non-stop since my arrival in Vancouver. The difference it that this is an umbrella city versus a rain jacket city. Seattle is a rain jacket city. More people can fit on a sidewalk if they have a rain jacket on instead of an umbrella. In Vancouver, you have to maneuver down the street to make sure to not crash into someone else’s umbrella. Funny how different cities adapt to similar weather.

I wish I had more free time to investigate Vancouver but maybe next time. Our classroom was on the top floor of the building and was floor-to-ceiling glass facing out. We were suddenly interrupted by five flying bald eagles yesterday. We all stopped to gaze at their majestic flight with snow-capped mountains as a back drop. Uniquely awesome. I will be back.

Exploring our edges. My drive on Mount Tamalpais.

I have traveled to Northern California over the last year to take ORSC training by CRR Global. Since I was, for twenty years, a resident of Northern California this training has given me the opportunity to travel to many old haunts, sightseeing and visiting with friends and family. So when I arrived at 2 PM on a Thursday with the entire afternoon to kill, I had to think, where do I really want to go. My final destination was my hotel in San Rafael. But what to do with 4 plus hours on my own with absolutely no commitments. After searching the current exhibitions at all the local museums with nothing of interest, I decided I wanted to conquer Mount Tamalpais.exploring edges

I knew from experience that I should be able to drive up just shy of the summit and that the drive to the top, on a sunny day, would be spectacular. Well, since it was a sunny day, mid-week (i.e. less tourists) I set my GPS for Mount Tam and headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge. So this might seem like it’s not a big deal but I have suffered from acrophobia for most of my life. As I happily drove up to the summit I suddenly realized why I hadn’t been up to the summit in over 2 decades. It’s a long way down to the Pacific and there are no guard rails. I definitely was crossing an edge. The ironic thing is that I was attending a CRR Global session the following night titled “Exploring our Edges” and here I was literally exploring my acrophobic edge.

So this is what I learned about exploring my edge:

1. Name it. Probably the biggest advantage of coaching is that, through powerful questions, you name the obstacle, desired outcome or future state you are seeking. Whether it’s dumping your day job, deciding to propose, changing your business focus or quitting smoking, name the change. It’s not until a coach asks me, “How do you want it to be?” that I realize I want to run a marathon or write a book or start a new business. When you are crystal clear on where the destination is and name it, it’s much easier to explore. It would be like looking at maps of Haiti when you really want to go to Tahiti. Be sure to name it.

2. Experience it. In the CRR Global session, we each had a partner to explore our individual edge. There was blue painter’s tape on the floor shaped as an isosceles angle. The pinnacle of the angle was the “edge” and the left side was labeled “now” and right side labeled “future”. Standing with a coach next to you to experience where you are on the edge (right next to the pinnacle or way down at the base or already on the future side). This helps to reveal your emotional attachment or lack of attachment, your resistance or uncovers your ambition, your fear and your passion. It’s quite different to physically take a stand instead of just talking in the hypothetical. It makes it real. Be sure to experience where you are versus your edge.

3. Test it. When we were exploring our edge in class, we were encouraged to test getting over the edge any way we wanted. Some folks took baby steps up to the pinnacle, one person got down on the floor and sniffed the edge, some jumped to the other side. And then jumped back. I tell you that when I got to the top of Mount Tam and realized I needed to drive back down from where I came, I panicked a bit. Then I realized it was my edge and I could deal with it anyway I wanted. I drove the hairpin turns with a thousand foot drop off at ten miles an hour and imagined I was in the middle of a corn field in Kansas (as flat as could be). As the altitude dropped, my speed increased, and if a car came up behind me, I pulled over so they could pass. I was testing my edge at my own pace.

4. Design it. As you test and experience the change you want, you suddenly become aware of what you need to do to get there or not get there. I’ve seen clients decide that they need be patient and wait for their next stock option vestment, or to sign up for the next coach training or call their financial advisor or get their website up or get safely to the bottom of the mountain. When you finally have some clarity, it becomes apparent what you need to do. Design your next step.

5. Check it. It always helps to have accountability. Whether you put your action step on your own calendar or promise to email your friend after you sign up for that new class or when your website is live. When I drove to the top of Mount Tam, I let my husband know where I was going. If you don’t set up something to be cross checked, it gets lost in the ether; like many good intentions, never to be heard from again. Make sure you have a way to check progress whether internally or externally.

When I began writing this, I had to research if I had vertigo or acrophobia. It is acrophobia (a fear of heights) and apparently women suffer from it twice as much as men. As infants and toddlers we have a natural fear of cliffs. This brought me back to an incident from my childhood. Apparently as a two year old, I tried to crawl out of a second story window and my father saved me just in time. So if I didn’t have the fear of cliffs before, I most certainly did afterwards. I will continue to explore my edge. What edge do you need to explore?

Quantum Flirts. Are you reading the signs in your life?

I have been training for the last year with CRR Global and a few weeks ago I went to the fourth installment of my Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) training. This stuff is magical. The topic on the last day was Quantum Flirts which is as described by CRR Global, “a short-lived, transient, perceptual signal which can be used to provide us with insight.” It is based on the work of Arnold Mindell and Quantum Mechanics. So the way I see it, it’s like the Universe is sending you a sign. As Arnold writes, “In everyday terms, Arny explained this idea of “many worlds” by saying that when we begin to focus on something, we see its most probable state, the one that fits into our culture and consensus reality. Yet, in each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait, though in Arny’s interpretation, we choose one and marginalize the others. To say it very simply, the moment we call something “a” or “b” we have marginalized all of its other possible states (c,d,e, etc).”The Universe is flirting with you and you need to pay attention to catch it so that you can see the possibility of a different outcome. It may be a flicker of a bulb, the song of a bird or a flash of sunlight on a wave, but it’s the Universe winking at you; laying out hints. quantum flirts

I was fortunate to be the volunteer coached by Grace Flannery in Quantum Flirts. She asked that I bring up a current issue or hot spot that had stressed me out with someone close to me. I talked about my son and his desire to find a place to live this summer instead of coming home and there are a multitude of options and growing for staying in Miami. I further explained how his mode of communication is texting which can leave one wanting (me) for more and frustrated. She then asked me to look around the room or outside and see if there was anything that caught my attention for just a second. I noticed how a classmate was flipping his reading glasses and the glint of light from it. This was my “flirt”. Grace ask me to animate the flirt and I flickered my fingers in an arc in front of me. Grace expounded on my gesture with a “Fa la la la la”. I copied her. She said, “So when your son texts, you can just say “fa la la la la”. We did it in unison. The observing class then copied me. We were all there “fa la la-ing” and copying my gesture. I could not stop laughing. We all cracked up. The Universe flirted with me and it was hysterical. My aggravation with my son was a construct of reality but by paying attention to the spark or “flirt” I could imagine that there could be a different outcome. I could let go and see it in a different light. It’s not a hot spot, there is potential in my relationship with my son to any outcome that I chose. His constant texting and options are his way to engage. So be it.

So how do you tune into the signals and flirts around you? Here are some ideas.

1. Presence. If you aren’t living in the moment, it’s going to be pretty hard to pick up on any signals. If you have ever meditated (and if you are a faithful reader of my blog you should be by now 🙂 ) do you start to notice every sound or smell or the crazy shapes on the inside of your eyelids when shut? You are officially “present”. I always notice the sound of the clock in my office, the birds outside or the ventilation system. Get present; become present.

2. Notice. Take notice of what is going on around you. I started noticing every animal that crossed my path and not just my dog. Turtle out in the lake bobbing with its head at the surface. A glint of light off a wet leaf, the clock is at 11:11, the receipt fell on the floor to only show the word “thanks”. Start to take note of what is going on out there or in there. My dog is sleeping, my dog is sighing, my dog is running around at lightning speed because geese are in her space, my dog is out of the water. I try and remember something about the dream I just woke up from. Take notice.

3. Offer. So what does this sign have to offer? Why is the universe or a higher power or quantum physics sending a signal to you? I know that each time I see a turtle I feel like I need to slow down and be patient. When I see a robin I think of rebirth and Spring. Canadian geese are a nuisance and I’m wondering if I am pestering someone. Perhaps my children? My husband? My boss? My dog is out of the water. Maybe I need water and nourishment as well. The receipt that fell with “thanks” showing is offering me gratitude. What is the offer?

4. It’s right. Don’t get caught up in perfection about what the sign or the flirt means. It means what it means to you. I know sometimes I “cheat” and Google “tornado as a symbol in a dream”. Apparently, this could be a sign of stress. Makes sense. That resonates for me. If it doesn’t, maybe the tornado is a sign of escaping danger. Animals like Robins, Herons and Turtles almost always have a Shamanic reference. Those are easy to Google as well. I dreamt about a broken bottle the other day and the reference for that symbol was “potential”. What it felt like for me was avoiding the broken glass. There was a person I was walking on egg shells for and I feel like the broken glass was the symbol I could relate to.

I’m less about everything happens for a reason and more about taking in information I do like to think that things show up at the right time and that the turtle that just stuck his head up through the surface of the lake is telling me to slow down. What signs do you see?