First Drafts Are Meant to Be Messy

To riff on a great Wayne Gretzky quote, you’ll miss your publication date by 100 percent if you don’t write your first draft.

Writers practice a lot to get better and faster at writing. Good writing takes time. And, it takes grit, which tends to look like failure but isn’t.

Not every day in a writing life yields 1,000 good words. That’s not how writing works. Generating good content takes a willingness to get messy and make mistakes. That takes courage, curiosity and confidence. Add research as needed, and a writing life will blossom.

When Enough Is Enough
Most writers benefit from a consistent schedule and work space, but they also know when they’ve had enough for one day.

Stop and refresh. Check in. Take regular breaks so you can return to your manuscript pages with fresh eyes.

  • Have you moved your body in the last hour? Right now: take a deep breath and reach for the sky.
  • Are you spinning your wheels over the same section? That’s a yes if your head is pounding.
  • Are you hydrated? If you’re irritated, you’re probably dehydrated.
  • How often do you stop to let ideas percolate? Resting your mind refreshes your creativity.

Writing Is Messy
Drafting is exactly what it sounds like – taking an idea, capturing it in words and then constructing phrases and sentences that will eventually become cohesive paragraphs.

Jumpstart the drafting process by using the list of words and phrases you brainstormed in your prewriting. If it helps, use a recording device to capture your purpose for writing and the message you want to convey. Be willing to explain how your perspective differs from others who write on the topic – and how your audience will benefit from your approach. Be specific.

Drafting often feels like two steps forward, one step back. Rough drafts are called rough for a reason. This stage of the writing process is messy, a time for you to endeavor and discover, so keep premature judgements (and other nasty killjoys) out of the picture.

Perfectionists are prone to anxiety because they unrealistically expect first attempts to be perfect. Give yourself permission to draft and revise multiple drafts. Every piece need time to evolve and rest and evolve again. Completing a rough draft is often a longer process than most writers want to admit. It tends to come with an eek-I-can’t-believe-I’m-still-working-on-this factor.

Patience and a Word of Caution
You will get better at drafting. The day will come when you stop researching, stop accumulating index cards and start producing chapters. However, don’t be surprised if, after a good day of writing, you realize the draft doesn’t read back as well as you anticipated.

One pitfall to avoid is revising your first draft too early. Give yourself time to complete it. Getting stuck in a cycle of revisions only prolongs the drafting process.

Set a doable goal each day. Get the entire draft out first, warts and all. You’re then more likely to finish the project.

Word, Google docs and other writing programs allow you to post comments on the manuscript. Leave notes for yourself to fix sections with awkward transitions, informational gaps or clichés. Mark passages that sound predictable, have an inconsistent tone or need statistical data and a hyperlink. Then let the work rest. Shift your attention to something else for a while.

Drafting Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Drafting takes time, so keep at it. When you return each day to write, remember to use the planning tools you developed in your brainstorming sessions – your notes, bulleted lists, color-coded index cards, mapping docs and storyboard sketches – as guideposts to complete your draft.

Targeted Tip: Are You Sure?
You may ask yourself after weeks of writing whether you’re still headed in the right direction. Writing is a isolating experience that can leave you feeling blindsided. When you get to a point where you have no idea whether or not your content will resonate with your audience, take your work to a trusted advisor: a writing circle or professional editor with experience and interest in your area of expertise. They have the training to offer constructive input they can justify. Find a group or an individual with the skills to help you clarify, polish and showcase your message and voice.

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