Four Tips to Writing That First Draft
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
The blank page can be an intimidating and scary prospect for a lot of writers. Whether you’re trying to write that masterpiece novel that has been rolling around in your brain for years or just sending an email to the school principal, starts can be hard.
There have been many tips and tricks I have employed over the years to get those floating ideas and sentences from my brain to some kind of finished product.
Sit Down and Write Badly
Anne Lamott, a favorite writer of mine poetically coined the term, “sh*tty first draft.” Just know going in, whatever you start with is going to be terrible. It doesn’t matter though, because it’s the first draft. Whatever you start with, is not going to be the end result. You don’t even need to spell words correctly on that terrible first piece. Sometimes your brain just needs the exercise of gathering those words and ideas in some kind of basket (piece of paper, google doc, whatever) so you can sort through it all later and see what you got.
On your first draft, the goal is to just sit down and get out words. Don’t edit, don’t revise. Just spit out words. This is not as easy as it seems. I still struggle with this! But reciting Ms. Lamott’s mantra in my head of “just write the SFD, just write the SFD” gets me through that temptation to edit and revise which can slow down the entire process. I have made the mistake of never actually finishing a crappy first draft because I got into the mode of editing and revising my first few sentences.
Bubble Your Way To A Draft
Bubble charts! I like this method so much. It takes me back to being a worry free kid, sitting at my 3rd grade desk, where my only assignment was to think of new ideas that were associated with other new ideas. Single words were the goal! No sentence structure, no indenting lines of a paragraph, all I had to do was play a word association game with myself.
Bubbling (this is what I will call it now) is a great way to get the fire started. This method can be used for that daunting novel as well as the mundane email. You pick a main topic or word and then just start drawing lines and other words associated with that topic. Keep going until your page is full or until you start to see a pattern you can work with. If not pattern stands out, no big deal, you now have a page full of ideas and words to pull from to get you on your way.
Speak a Draft
Using a voice recorder (thanks 2019, we all have one on our phones) simply speak what you want to write about or talk your first draft. You can play it back and dictate it, or play it back and then write it again from memory. This is also a great way to get other senses in the mix and keep that right brain active and lit up.
Have Patience With Yourself
Writing is a gift. Know this to be true. If you are drawn to the page, it’s because somewhere inside of you is a storyteller and the muse isn’t an elusive, hard to catch, mermaid unicorn. Don’t let writers like Hemingway make you think that writing is a chore. You don’t actually need to get drunk and be a tortured soul to be a writer. You simply need to start. And if you don't do it right the first time, simply start again. There is no limit on sh*tty first drafts.
What are your thoughts and ideas around a first draft? What do you do to get that first copy out in the ethos? I would love to hear!