(cited in BAE 2015, 2016, 2020, 2022); PUSHCART poetry finalist

The Undergrad Writer: Really Bad Drafts

I have a theory about all of those happy writers sitting in coffee shops. All of those happy writers sitting in coffee shops are only happy because they’re doing it wrong.

dont freak outI observed these happy writers often from a long Starbucks line at 8:00am through my yawning eyes, and I never once thought I could get to that point of being a happy writer. I was a freshman at a private college with a major in Sociology and a Business Management minor, and a plan to work with nonprofit companies after graduation. After my first year, I realized I only chose this career path because in high school I tried to rack up as many volunteer opportunities as possible to boost my resume and college applications, and the college major just followed suit. I wasn’t totally in love with my program, but I didn’t know what else to do. I stunk at math, hated science with my whole heart, couldn’t speak other languages, and didn’t have enough time to read (or so I thought). What I could do, however, was write essays.

I did my research and discovered that Essay Writing wasn’t a degree option at my school, but there was an English Writing and Literature program.

So I switched.

I walked into my first literature course thinking it was a writing course, and I walked into my first writing workshop thinking I accidentally stumbled into a business meeting. Needless to say, I was a creative writing virgin.

The workshops themselves I thought were amazing. I love constructive criticism, both giving and receiving it, so I thought it would be great, until I read everyone else’s work.

“EXCUSE ME?!” I thought to myself while reading a floppy-haired hopeless romantic boy named Greg’s first piece. “I have to compete with this?!”

It was so good. Poetic and beautiful, striking and unique. I was embarrassed when he had to critique my first piece about football.

And although he didn’t tear me or my piece to shreds, and even though my professor was so kind, and although I wasn’t the only first- time writer in the class, I walked out feeling like our writing class was a competition, and by the end of the semester, I had to make it to at least the top five.

As time went on, my writing skills improved and the workshops were helpful, but what meant the most to me was that class was fun.

I loved to talk about writing, and stories, and grammar, and characters; it was all so thrilling to me. And I realized I was going to be okay in this creative writing excursion.

I found more reassurance in one of my homework assignments. We were to read Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, a book about the acclaimed author’s journey as a writer, and throughout the book she shares everything she knows about writing. The whole book is fantastic. One chapter in particular, though, changed my writing forever:

“Sh*tty First Drafts.”

Lamott explains that no writer sits down feeling like a million dollars, cracks their knuckles, and begins writing fully formed, brilliant passages. She, and most other writers, sit down and write really bad first drafts.

Crappy first drafts become good second drafts and then awesome third drafts, and understanding this is the key to starting out a piece.

I’m pretty sure I could hear my soul singing as I read this. It was perfect, because all of my first drafts were really bad!

But my awful first drafts eventually turned into decent pieces and while I still feel weird calling myself a writer, I know that I am one. And I owe it all to my really bad first drafts.

In hindsight, maybe all of those happy looking writers sitting in coffee shops were on their final drafts.



Cassandra CapewellCassie Capewell lives in Boston, MA. She is an honors student at Emmanuel College, and is expected to graduate in May 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Writing and Literature. Her literary inspiration ranges from David Sedaris to biblical passages to Jay-Z lyrics. She plans to build her career in the book editing and publishing fields upon graduating.


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