“The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway
This post is in praise of the lousy first draft.
As an internal communications expert in Corporate Communications, have you ever sweated over a first draft? Most of us would raise our hands. I remember one time when a leader asked me to prepare a message for her. This particular message was important to the leader–the language had to be just right and it had to be delivered at a certain time. I was under a lot of pressure. I agonized and worried over each and every line. It took ages to come up with that first draft, and when I finally handed it to the leader, it was completely revised.
If this sounds familiar, I have two pieces of advice.
First, don’t assume. Clarify. Make sure you know the objective, the audience, and who the message is coming from. That information will help you determine what your audience or stakeholders should take away from the text, so that you can craft the right content, for the right channel, in the right tone.
Second–and this one is the life saver when you’re feeling the pressure–give yourself permission to write a lousy first draft. Then go ahead and write it. Grind out one word after another, one sentence after another, one paragraph after another. Don’t hold back.
Do, however, avoid editing until you reach the end of what you need to convey. That’s right. No jiggering with that opening sentence, while you’re plowing through the second paragraph. No revising those verb tenses, while you’re midway through writing the relevant information. Keep going until you’ve said it all.
You’ve just accomplished something. By giving yourself permission to write a lousy first draft, you’ve presented yourself with your base. Yes, it may be teeming with imperfections, but you knew you were going to edit anyway. Now, you have something concrete to revise. You have your foundation to form and reform. So go ahead! Slash, add, nudge, reframe, move, correct, replace–relish all those revisions, top to bottom.
You’ll arrive at your client-ready draft that much more efficiently, saving precious time just when you need it.
If Hemingway is comfortable with a bad first draft, then we can be, too.