Remember, the first draft is crap

I forgot that the first draft is supposed to be bad. Instead of letting my thoughts bounce around the page, I’ve been trying to create structure during my first attempt at writing a piece. Not a good strategy for me and for most writers.

I never wrote my college papers at the last minute. But, I studied at the last minute all the time. But, I needed to revise my research several times. I usually got all the meaty parts in during the first draft, but I needed several more drafts to fix pronouns, punctuation, etc. My friends always assumed it was no skin off my back to write a paper; after all, I was a Journalism major. Not true. I needed time to go through the nooks and crannies. My papers were the only thing I was that thorough about.

Since I started working as an editor, I have forgotten this process; probably because there’s too little time to devise three or four drafts for everything. An article in the February issue of Writer’s Digest magazine reminded me to slow down and focus more on my ideas than on getting it perfect early on in the writing process. 

Here are some tips I picked up from Elizabeth Sim’s Fixing Your First Draft

  • Don’t focus so much on getting it right the first time. Let your words flow onto the page. You can go back later and manage the technicalities.
  • Don’t try to write in order. Write in the order of what comes to your mind next and not how the piece should be organized. 
  • Give more, not less. Over-write, over-write, over-write!  There’s always room for editing and who knows which insane idea will give fruit to an entirely difference article or book?
  • Mark up the pages. Make notes as you’re writing. Use the margins to display ideas, questions, facts that may or may not come in handy later. Circle, draw arrows–the crazier the page looks, the more material you will have.
  • Don’t stress on the beginning. You don’t need an excellent start, just a start. It might end up being nothing like you originally thought, but your ideas will eventually lead you to the right one.
  • Write the first draft by hand. Like Sims, I work best when I write my first draft by hand and then type it in during the second revision. it feels less mechanical that way. Gmail and AIM distract me too much to ever really let  my words flow freely. I haven’t been doing a lot of this recently and this is definitely at the top of my writing resolutions list.**

Hope this list was helpful! Go check out the article yourself in the Feb. issue of Writer’s Digest. I’ve been visiting WD’s website for a while now, but never picked up the print issue until now. I assumed it was only useful to novelists and more seasoned writers. But, now I’m definitely a fan!

Merry Christmas!

**By the way, I hand wrote this post while reading this article and typed it in today, changing a lot of the structure. See, I’m following her advice already!

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3 thoughts on “Remember, the first draft is crap

  1. Those are great tips. As journalists we often focus so much on getting it right the first time– I know I do especially when trying to post a story quickly online. I feel like I have a lot more time to get it right creatively on my personal blog, rather than my station’s Web site. But in both cases, it’s easier to edit when I read it out loud.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Great tips, especially number one. I use this technique whenever I have writer’s block. I turn off my internal editor and let the words flow on the paper – it doesn’t have to make sense or be grammatically correct. I step away from the piece, and return hours later to edit. It’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing again.

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