Rhetorical Analysis Example of Anna Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts"

Published: 2024-01-14
Rhetorical Analysis Example of Anna Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts"
Essay type:  Analytical essays
Categories:  Writing Literature Writers
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1810 words
16 min read

We have often written an article, journal, or poem on a piece of paper but ended up tearing it up and regretting the wasted energy and time. We have then felt useless and given up on being good writers like the renowned writers we know. But what does it feel like to be a famous writer; is it always an exciting affair being in the shoes of a great writer like Anna Lamott? Anna Lamotta was born as a talented writer and began writing for her school magazine. She was officially introduced to her father's writing and wrote her first manuscript after her father had brain cancer. Her article Shitty First Drafts was written in 1994 and is in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, published in 1994. The Bird by Bird is an insight into Lamott's own life and her journey as a writer. In the book, she shares everything she knows about writing.

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She writes the article Shitty First Drafts to address the fear of writing bad drafts, especially among her students. She argues that Shitty first drafts are an essential part of the writing process, and writers should not be ashamed of them as they enable them to communicate emotions that perfectionism won't allow them to. In an attempt to build her credibility, she uses her personal experiences and capitalizes on information from reputable writers that the reader trusts. She uses sarcasm and humor to win over the reader, even in the absence of substantiated facts and statistics. The article presents a rhetorical argument to eliminate the notion that excellent writers succeed in their first drafts. She seeks to appeal primarily to young writers through her use of humor. She speaks to those aspiring writers who are on the verge of giving up writing just because they failed miserably on their first attempts. She tries to make the article as personalized as possible to enable the writers to associate themselves with her. However, in the end, she loses and credibility to support her argument as she dwells on appealing to her reader's emotions.

The article Shitty First Drafts is addressed directly to prospective writers and seeks to inform them of the importance of first drafts in the writing process. She aims to dispel the widespread belief that renowned writers have the perfect moments while writing. The writers should not fear writing terrible papers as they are progressing towards writing a final ideal piece. Lamott seeks to show that most seasoned writers take time writing, and quite often, their first drafts are never elegant. Writing is just like all other processes that must take time and is often stressful. She gives a reference to great writers that she knows, whose first drafts are always 'shitty.' She compares the first draft to a child's draft, where a writer gets to express themselves fully and pour out all their genuine emotions on paper. The child is a writer and should prevail in the first draft, and with time, the mature voice naturally takes over.

The first draft, which is often hidden from other people, provides a basis for revisiting the draft, and restructuring and altering it to develop the second draft. The third draft is where the writer looks at the intended purpose and audience of the piece and the grammar. Lamott then gives an account of her writing process. She reveals her struggles writing food reviews with the California Magazine (Lamott, 1994). She admits that her writing experience would become so exhaustive that she almost quit and became an office clerk-typist. However, she would pull herself together and write whatever came to her mind. Her first draft would be so long that she would find it challenging to write the second draft. However, on the second day, she would come back and find writing the second draft a lot easier because by then, she would have more clarity on the subject matter she was writing about. This cycle would repeat itself because she had to write another review another day. Even though it may be exhausting, there is no room for giving up. There is no room for a writer to give up because they only have two options; to write or to die.

Lamott uses her personal experiences to garner support for her argument. She fails to strengthen the credibility of her argument as she focuses on building. She makes claims that she cannot substantiate with a prove because she does not have any evidence. She uses the first-person pronoun (I) and the third person to sway the reader's emotions to herself. For instance, she capitalizes on the fact that the readers adore the writers to push her narrative, "I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully" (Lamott, 1994). Such statements seek to appeal to the reader's ethos and strike their emotions toward believing the accompanying argument (Down, 2017). She makes the piece an issue of (I) against them by referring to those who opposed their argument.

Ethos describes how credible the writer is depending on their character, how they write, and their background. Ethos is essential for the purpose of convincing the reader to trust the reader and what they say. She uses a strong voice, which is nevertheless aggressive and sarcastic. She is rather harsh and aggressive when she says, "We do not think that she has a that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her" (Lamott, 1994). Her tone may only appeal to some sections of young people but not to people looking for facts, evidence, and argument support. The article is very straightforward and addresses a specific audience instead of appealing to several audiences. She knows she has no facts that any reader is looking for and therefore devices a manner to get even those that only look for facts to be enticed by the humor and sarcasm. Deep into the article, ethos keeps diminishing as the writer becomes less credible. At the same time, they are more aggressive in her words and fail to give any sources for the information she provides. Furthermore, nowhere in her article does she cite any outside sources, making her writing appear only to be an opinion that should not apply to everyone for lack of credibility.

Lamott applies an appeal to logos in her article. Logos entails appealing to the logical side of the audience. This is achieved through the use of factual information and statistics in an argument to bring out a line of reasoning that is clear (Downs,2017). Furthermore, it can be achieved by using personal experiences and observations that are presented logically and clearly. At the beginning of the article, she seeks to eliminate the widespread belief that great writers are always the most perfect of the moment's writing. Of course, she has to back this up with evidence to show that they don't have the ideal start. What would be logical, in this case, is to show to the reader evidence that this is not the case. Therefore, she cites great writers that the reader 'loves' to seek to appeal to logic. The reader shall then be made to feel that if their favorite writer has shitty writing moments, then it is ok to flop on the first try. She also places herself among these loved writers and says, "For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous" (Lamott, 1994). Using the term 'most,' she seeks to appeal to their reader's logical sense and make them believe the opinion that she holds.

To cultivate this appeal to logos, she employs her own experience as a food critic. Of course, the reader can relate to this example because they know that she has been reviewing food. It is also true that she is regarded as being among the great writers, and therefore, her opinion is very likely to be trusted as a logical truth. By providing her real-life experience, she is able to convince the reader to take her side. However, Lamott may fail to appeal to critical scholars seeking facts and statistics to connect to her argument. Her use of quantifiers is meant to dupe the reader but does not have a statistical basis for them. To have more appeal to logos, she could give statistics on the number of writers that write shitty first drafts instead of saying 'all writers.' It is illogical to claim all writers write shitty first drafts and then later say, "Very few writers really know what they are doing until they have done it" (Lamott, 1994). She could at least provide statistics or figures on the number of people or percentage of writers who know or do not know what they are doing until they have done it.

Perhaps the appeal that Lamott employs most is the appeal to pathos. Appeal to pathos is an appeal to the reader's emotions (Down, 2017). She capitalizes on this appeal with her humorous and sarcastic tone, which she employs in most of her articles. She uses humor to get away from facts and still remain relevant. For instance, it is unfounded when she claims that only one writer writes perfect first drafts, "All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much" (Lamott, 1994). She brings in this sense of humor to blind the audience and keep them from seeking answers on where she got this data. Her readers may find these presumptuous claims amusing and entertaining. This humor and sarcasm motivate them to keep on reading and believe her argument. However, other readers, especially the adults, may use the language she uses to make arguments inappropriate and fail to understand her view. This type of reader is not looking to be entertained but to be informed by the use of credible facts and figures, which Lamott's article lacks.


Although Lamott begins her essay by effectively convincing her audience of her opinion about shitty first drafts, she loses this power in the course of her article. She fails to strategically build on her argument with facts and instead uses emotions and opinions to drive it. Readers can feel that, indeed, there is some truth in her argument that shitty first drafts are an essential part of any successful writing process. However, her transition into humor and sarcasm denies her the chance to argue her position with the required facts and statistics effectively. In the end, it all feels like an opinion article that should not be applied elsewhere as other sources have not credited it.


Downs, D. (2017). Rhetoric: Making sense of human interaction and meaning-making. Writing about Writing: A college reader, 457-481. https://dougdownsteaching.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/downs-rhetoric.pdf

Lamott, A. (1994). Shitty first drafts. Wardle and Downs, 527-31. http://www.academia.edu/download/58122663/Writing_about_Writing.pdf#page=555

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