While Listening to Annie Lamott Give Tim Ferriss Her Advice for Writers

Psychiatric TimesVol 39, Issue 3

“Step 1: put your butt in a chair for 45 minutes every day and get down a shitty draft.”




“Step 1: put your butt in a chair for 45 minutes
every day and get down a shitty draft.”

Which is exactly what I’ve started doing

after sharpening pencils for three minutes,

and I’m thinking, Annie, I know this drill

from keeping my butt in a chair

for 45-minute sessions with patients

before I shift gears and spend fifteen more

as a doctor-poet, compressing their stories

and sighs into progress note poems

I season with blood work and brain scans.

And now, Annie, at minute 16, I’m writing

about the way professional standards

make me gaze into my crystal ball to predict

suicide risk, and I’m wondering if imagining

the future makes me a sci-fi writer

whose words could be used as time machines

for patients to board and rearrange their past:

a doomed marriage derailed before wedding;

the pathology report changed from malignant

to benign; making a full stop at the warning light.

Hitting minute 33 I’m pausing to read

what I’ve written, my inner critic screaming,

Don’t sign off on a shitty draft

like this one, even though Annie’s Step 2 says:

Perfectionism blocks playfulness and creativity.

But hey, I only write for an audience of three:

the clear lens of my professional eye,

that bureaucrat who authorizes my payments,

and a malpractice attorney, years from now,

who will read my progress note poems

while she weighs her case against me.

The clock just ticked minute 41,

and Annie, just as you predict my attention

is wandering, even if I haven’t hit Step 3:

Make the reader feel something is at stake,

which I’ll have to focus on in my revision.

But I do understand your words about

The holiness of the writer’s craft,

because my other profession asked me

to swear the sacred Hippocratic oath,

To Apollo Healer and before all the gods

and goddesses… getting these words down

just as my alarm signals minute 45.

Richard Berlin

I put down my pen. “Shitty Draft

Number One.” Thanks, Annie, I had fun.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience as a doctor every month for the past 24 years in Psychiatric TimesTM. He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch. ❒

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