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It could be a hell of a lot better: A guide to first drafts


 

So, you’ve got your assignment. You know you need to write something. And then, it hits you! Brilliant. You fill a page (or two or three) with an incredible combination of words and ideas, certain that you’ve hit writing gold. And then you’re done. Right?

No, not really. You’ve just written a first draft.

First drafts, and the edits that follow, are essential. Having to go through a round of edits does not make you a bad writer. It doesn’t mean your topic isn’t worthwhile. It just means that you, like countless other wordsmiths before you, have to fine-tune your words.

If you want to produce great content, you have to learn to be OK with writing a crappy first draft. Think of it as a bare-bones version of the final piece. Your first draft should leave you with the feeling that it could be better; your final draft should leave you knowing that it is better.

Want to know how to write a good first draft (and an even better second/third/fourth one)? Follow these steps to make sure your great idea stands a chance.

Stop overthinking.

As long as you have a general idea of what you need to accomplish with your writing, remember that you can clean up the text later. For now, just put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, if you’re so inclined) and get it all out there. Don’t stop to think about the sentence structure, how to spell the name of a place, the development of the characters or what your audience will think of it. Just keep writing.

Take a break, then think it through.

Now’s the time to put on the brakes a bit. Once you’ve got it all down, leave it alone. Come back to it once you’ve had some time to clear your mind. Or, if you don’t have time to do that, at least change the font and/or color of the text. (This will trick your brain into thinking the content is something new.) Then, start the editing process by looking at any structural changes you’d like to make. Does your piece convey what you’re trying to say? Is it clearly understandable? Does it all flow well together and make sense? Once you’ve got the structure in place, it’s time to focus on the details. Check for grammar and style issues. Are the words all spelled properly? Are the punctuation marks where they should be? Can you verify all of the proper nouns?

Run it by others.

Send it to a friend, a copy editor or a coworker. Or, even better, send it to multiple people. Ask them to note down where they stumbled on the words. Ask them what the main point of the piece was. This isn’t necessarily a “one and done” kind of stage. Expect a bit of back and forth with the editing process. And don’t be afraid to disagree. Can you imagine what it would have been like if Martin Luther King had followed an aide’s advice and actually dropped “I have a dream” from his famous speech?

Put it out there.

Now, as with the first stage, is not the time to overthink things. To be honest, you can always find another edit in pretty much any piece of work. (Feel free to change later versions if you want. Lincoln did.) But, if you’ve diligently followed the above steps, your copy should be ready for the world to see. Display it proudly, Wordsmith. You’ve earned it.

 

 

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