Writers sometimes anguish over their first drafts, because initial versions are always rough.
Anyone who has moved into a house or an apartment knows that you usually are concerned with simply getting the boxes and furniture into the new home; you will deal with putting everything in its place later. Similarly, in writing, a draft is the initial “unloading” of your ideas. Get your information down first, then worry about rearranging things and doing the fine tuning later.
Here are three quick suggestions regarding the drafting phase of writing:
- Resist the urge to be a one-and-done writer whose first draft is the final version.
- Have the discipline to keep your butt in the chair and keep writing.
- Recognize that if you are struggling to write a draft, perhaps you missed an important first step: organizing your thoughts.
When you sit down to write a draft, don’t lose half the afternoon staring at a blank screen, waiting for some spirit to deliver a burst of literary inspiration. And once you start to gain momentum, don’t listen to the voice in your head that questions and criticizes what you write. Every writer hears that voice, but the time to listen is later, when you revise. When drafting, just relax and write.
Most writers probably will find it more effective and efficient to write from beginning to end and then make changes. That way, they can concentrate on their material and ensure that they convey their intended meaning and that they include the necessary details. A polished version will emerge in the revising phase, where the trimming, shaping, and crafting happens.
Some writers perfect their writing paragraph by paragraph. They repeatedly interrupt themselves to fix things and to use a dictionary or a thesaurus to double-check their word choice, so that everything is exactly the way they want it. If that approach works for you, don’t change. But many writers will find that the painstaking effort to make every sentence flawless is wasted effort if those sentences get deleted in the editing process. That frequently happens, because once you see them in the context of all the other information, you realize they are not important.
The drafting process can be more difficult and more time consuming if you don’t organize your thinking first to provide yourself a blueprint. It helps to write your thoughts on paper or on the screen in a vertical list. It’s an informal brainstorming exercise that enables you to see the topics that were swirling in your head. You can decide what are the unimportant and irrelevant topics, what are the best ones, and how can you arrange those in a logical, coherent order.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.