I call my first draft a “pile of words.” The first draft of anything is just about getting the words on the page, and those words don’t have to make a lot of sense. Between the time I shove that pile of words out of my brain and deliver a finished piece to an editor, a transformation occurs. The pile shifts and form like a sand sculpture. Buckets of words are packed onto a large mound and then chipped away and reinforced until the beautiful final draft is revealed.
But for a lot of us, writing those initial piles of words is difficult. Really, beginning is harder than almost anything. First drafts perk up your inner perfectionist, who insists on immediate edits. I like to call her Judgmental Judy (Nothing against folks named Judy! I just like the alliteration). She peers over my shoulder whenever I’m writing, continually explaining that all of my words are awful and I might as well quit writing altogether.
Oh! Do you know Judy too? Come on down to our club! We meet at the ice cream shop every Wednesday. I’m thinking about making t-shirts!
Getting out from under that inner perfectionist’s beautifully manicured talons is hard. And, even once you’ve done it, you’ll find that you have to repeat the effort over and over.
And the truth is that editing is easier with all those words waiting and ready to spark your inspiration. As the wise Jodi Picoult said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
That initial pile of words (or what Anne Lamott calls “the sh*tty first draft”) cannot be avoided. And since most of us must find our writing time in the nooks and crannies of our busy lives, we can’t waste our time resisting the effort.
It’s time to get serious about getting those first words on the page.
Practice Writing a Rough Draft
Now, I can hear some of you calling out, “Who needs practice to write a rough draft? They’re awful! Why would we practice?”
And that’s just the thing. Because they are awful, because we’re ashamed of the inelegant wording, because we can’t completely shut Judgmental Judy’s constant criticism out of our minds, because the process is filled with stops and starts and distractions and questions with answers we don’t have, we don’t want to write them.
And thus, writing them is hard. What could be a carnival of glorious fun is changed into a morass of self-doubt and horror.
So, what do we do when something is hard? How do we build up our skills so the process becomes easier?
By practicing writing rough drafts, the work becomes familiar and Judgmental Judy’s voice fades into the background. We get used to making mistakes and writing without stopping to care if words are spelled correctly or things make sense. And as those concerns become less and less a part of our first drafting, the fun of writing can begin to sneak back into our process at this early point.
Ready To Give It a Try?
Here’s the exercise: write the worst draft you can for five minutes. Make it horrible. Use cliches. Stuff metaphors in by the dozen. Is that an adverb? Why use one when you could seriously, hopefully, arguably use three? Start multiple sentences with the same word. Give your heroine three different names.
Write quickly. Write awful. Write short.
Want a prompt? Here you go: It was a dark and stormy night….
What? You expected something good? No way!
Give it a try. Write the most awful words you can for five minutes. Really try to make them bad. Work your hardest to write the worst thing imaginable.
When you’re done, rejoice! You did it! Woohoo!
How did it feel to just let loose and write whatever came into your mind? To know that when Judgmental Judy told you your writing was horrible, you could just say “Well spotted, Jude! That’s what I was going for!”
Be kind to old Judy. After all, you want to stay friends with her. She’s going to help you when you get to the editing stage.
By rejoicing at the end of each rough draft, you reinforce the pleasant aspects of this part of the process. And each time you do that, you teach yourself that writing that rough draft can be fun. By training your brain that rough drafting is more play than work, you reduce your resistance to starting and undermine the tendency toward procrastination.
Plus, each start has the potential to become a beautiful finished object. And sometimes, our first instincts are gorgeous. That grotesque metaphor that made us choke back shame when we wrote it down? That one was spot on. One small tweak and it gets into the final draft. And that sentence that seemed filled with beauty? It may be chucked out in the first rewrite.
Remember, this is a practice, not a magical spell that eliminates your inner perfectionist. It’s normal to find her yammering on about word choice. This practice helps you to push her to the back of your brain during that initial draft and keep getting those words onto the page.
And that’s the point.
Rough drafting is an unavoidable part of our passion, and the only one where we can allow ourselves the unvarnished ridiculousness of our minds. Why not have some fun with it?
Write a pile of gloriously horrid words now, so you can return to edit and reveal its beauty.
*This piece is informed by and uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Tools.
LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach who empowers you to embrace JOY as you manifest your creative goals through her Creativity and Business Coaching. Battle resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm with her at your side, gently encouraging with humor and heart. Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz.