First drafts make you nervous, don’t they?
You’d rather endure a root canal.
Like a sore spot in the pit of your stomach, they make you feel queasy, unsettled.
But you’ve been walking around with this amazing story in your head, and you think you’re ready to share it.
And because you’re invested in it, you can’t bear the thought of screwing it up, of missing the mark.
You think, what if nobody reads it? What if nobody likes it?
So, you do nothing about it, putting it off until someday.
You’re waiting to feel more certain about it, more confident in your abilities. You’re hoping you’ll wake up one morning feeling perfectly ready and capable.
I’ve got bad news for you:
That day’s never going to come.
You can sit and wait for it, but it won’t make any difference. The future’s just like that book in your head:
It doesn’t exist.
You’ll have to create it with the only reliable material any of us can access: this very moment—this moment right now.
So, why is it so hard to get your first draft on paper? Why can’t you muster the courage to start?
What’s the deal with first drafts, anyway?
It’s Okay to Write a Crap First Draft
Ernest Hemingway said, “the first draft of anything is shit.”
Author Ann Lamott, in Bird by Bird, her classic book for writers, reminds us that all writers write shitty first drafts.
This advice should be liberating, but it scares you, doesn’t it?
You want to write well, and you’re terrified you won’t.
Worse, you’re afraid that everything you write will be crap.
Writing well is challenging, but it’s not the hardest part.
Writing your first sentence just might be the most difficult part of your journey.
You have expectations. You have fears. You have impossible standards, right?
These thoughts and worries impede the flow. Writing requires letting go, allowing the work to evolve on the page. To begin the process, let go of your expectations, of your needs for perfection.
Give yourself permission to write terribly.
I’ll say it again:
Give yourself permission to write terribly.
In fact, welcome it, and expect it. Letting yourself off the hook creates a space where you can work efficiently, without suffering over every word or phrase. Taking action is the best way to bypass the internal critic.
The safest way to outrun his judgment is to act swiftly, consistently, without looking back.Taking action is the best way to bypass the internal critic. The safest way to outrun his judgment is to act swiftly, consistently, without looking back. Click To Tweet
So, embrace your fear, and write. Allow it to be weak, disjointed, disappointing. Revel in this knowledge, and trust the process.
“You can fix anything but a blank page.”—Nora Roberts.
Your First Draft is Better Than You Think
The beauty of first drafts is getting everything onto the page.
Without beating yourself up, without judging your prose, you can flesh out an entire story. This first step is empowering. It sets the stage for everything that comes later. It’s beautiful in its pristine form.
It’s your first experience with your story.
From this vantage point, you can see all the possibilities.
But to take full advantage of this opportunity, resist the temptation to rush into revision.
Let your work sit for a few days. Come back to it fresh, like a reader with a new book. Wait until you can see it with fresh eyes. Otherwise, like a surgeon with a shiny new scalpel, you risk removing something essential in your quest for progress.
Now is not the time for perfection.
First drafts hold great potential, capturing the story behind the story, your reason for writing in the first place. That original spark, that story you had to share, must remain intact.
So, walk away, and return when you feel sufficiently detached.
You’ll be surprised with the quality, with the raw materials present. When you can appreciate your work, the pure potential on the page, you’re ready to begin the next phase: revision.
Drafting Time is for Drafting, So Avoid Revision
We live in the golden age of multitasking.
It makes us feel smart, special, capable.
We walk around with access to all the knowledge in the universe stored in a tiny phone.
Whether it’s healthy or not, we text while driving. We surf the web while working. We carry on multiple conversations at once. We tell ourselves we’re practicing efficiency.
So, naturally, we think there’s a benefit to revising our work as we write.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When we stop to evaluate and edit ourselves, we break the flow of writing.
What could have been a steady stream of communication becomes a fragmented mess. It’s like trying to drive a car with your foot on the brake.
Revising and editing are different tasks, using different parts of the brain.
To become adept at drafting, stick to a single process: getting our thoughts down on paper.
Evaluating, revising, and editing are different functions, requiring your full attention
Studies show that multitasking compromises your brain and your career, so stick to the process at hand. Resist revision. Circle back if you need to find your place.
Begin revision when you’ve finished your draft.
Your Drafts Don’t Have to Take Forever
Every writer has experienced a form of writer’s block. It’s one of the most commonly-searched terms on the Internet.
To make things worse, films and television shows promote the stereotype: authors in anguish, chain-smoking cigarettes, tearing pages from the typewriter, the days on the wall calendar fluttering by.
The message is clear:
Artists must suffer terribly to create anything of value, often taking years to make progress.
I’m calling bullshit.
Writing, like any other endeavor, takes discipline and resilience, but it doesn’t have to be this dramatic. You don’t have to crank out a novel in a weekend. You don’t have to take three years to complete a project. These extremes are unnecessary.
All you need is a plan and a willingness to see it through. Establish an achievable daily word count, and get to work. If you want to complete your project faster, increase your word count, and add a few minutes writing time to each day.
To increase your speed considerably, consider drafting with voice-recognition software.
After the first hour or two of trial and error, you’ll find it empowering. Removing the typing from the equation, frees you to think and speak, much like you do in normal conversation.
In a matter of minutes, you’ll see the page differently. You’ll find you can write hundreds of words in mere minutes.
You’ll find you can think clearly and efficiently without reaching for the perfect word. Your writing will become more conversational.
You’ll find you can write for longer periods without feeling fatigued.
Voice activation software streamlines the process, allowing you to talk without self-editing, resembling an effortless discussion between old friends across a table.
I know many writers resist the idea due to some misguided fears about mixing technology and art.
Like the stereotypical, tormented writer mentioned above, suffering is optional. Use technology to your advantage, and you’ll gain an edge over the old-school writers, shackled to a keyboard or a typewriter.
Taken a step further, you can walk around the room, dictating your thoughts into the computer.
The software is so effective, you’ll find yourself erasing bits of conversation between yourself and other household members.
Give it a try.
You may find yourself doubling (or tripling) your productivity.
Try Dragon NaturallySpeaking. You can pick up the home version for about $60 US.
First Drafts Are the Key to Your Success
I don’t say this to create pressure. My aim is to relieve it.
Your first draft, this flawed, fragile, tangle of words, is the key to all writing success. When you release your story from the imagination, you’ve entered the path.
Many writers never make it this far.
They never set foot on the path.
Fixating on perfection or potential, you’ll never get to hold the book in your hand. Without committing it to form, you can’t edit it, judge it, or share it.
Think about that.
It doesn’t exist.
You can’t taste a soufflé until you’ve combined the ingredients and baked it in the oven.
You can’t revise it, either, turning it into a culinary masterpiece.
Instead, you worry about your soufflé, whether it will be worth the time and effort, whether it will collapse after baking.
Without completing it, you’ll never know, and you’ll never reap the rewards.
So, finish it, okay?
It’s just a first draft…
Now, it’s your turn:
How do you feel about first drafts? How do you get through them?
Share your thoughts in the comments section.