The most important thing I have learned about writing is the utility of a good rough draft. The rougher the better.
In high school I would do all of my writing assignments at the last minute. My first draft was often my final draft. And it showed. I get could get an “A” and squeak by, but I never wrote anything worth reading.
The habit continued once I started blogging and writing on a regular basis. I would write an article. Briefly proofread it. And then hit the publish button.
And I never wrote anything worth reading.
After some time I noticed that if went back and reread some of my own articles, I would develop an idea that would make them better. Like a good joke well after the moment was over, I would be disappointed that the idea wasn’t thought of earlier.
Rough drafts play a critical role in everything we write. They help us organize our thoughts. They help us come up with new and better ideas. They help us write with better precision. But only if we use them well.
When Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, the final answers to the problems were not obvious initially. The story goes that he tried 1,000 times before getting it right. He had to discover what didn’t work before he discovered what did.
999 rough drafts.
We shouldn’t look at writing any differently.
But many writers expect themselves to get it right on the first try. They expect the first prototype to work without ever crashing. They expect the light bulb to turn on and fill an entire room with light and last forever. And they neglect using rough drafts to their advantage.
Here are 6 ways to get more out of your rough drafts.
1. Don’t edit while you write. Just write. Too many writers expect their words to be beautiful on the first try. How can it be? And when it isn’t, we can make the mistake of editing while we write. This editing is like a dam for your ideas and words. Give yourself the freedom to actually write a first draft. Rough is supposed to be that. Rough.
Stop worrying about getting it right. Just write and let the words flow.
2. Write the rough draft now. Writers need deadlines. Without them, few would be productive. But you can’t use your rough drafts well if you wait until the last minute. Write ahead of time. Write long before the deadline. Write even when your words don’t have a designated assignment.
Get the words on paper sooner than later.
3. Read your rough draft out loud. Some things we write get stuck in our heads. No matter how many times you read it, the words make sense. But you need to look at it from a different perspective. The easiest way to do this is to read it out loud. Does it still make sense?
Reading out loud uses different parts of your brain and give you a different perspective.
4. Trim. Trim. Trim. The last step in everything you write should be to cut out any unnecessary words or phrases. They are there. A good place to begin is to look for words such as “just” and “that.” We all use them way to much. Once you get in the habit of simplifying what you say, you will find phrases that you commonly overuse as well.
When you simply your writing, you make the words you leave on the page powerful.
5. Have someone else edit it. My go-to proofreader is my wife. She is ruthless and she doesn’t care about my feelings getting hurt. These are the two important traits of a good editor. Find someone who is honest and ask them to help you make your writing better. This can be a spouse, a friend, or a professional editor.
They will see things in your writing that you never could. And it will be better for it.
6. Publish. Some writers never let their drafts see the light of day. Like an overprotective parent, they are guarding their work until they decide it is perfect and mature. The goal of your drafts must be to publish them. Revise. Edit. Make them better. But when the times comes, they need to get a job of their own and move out of the house.
Rough drafts never matter until the day we publish.
QUESTION: How do you get more out of your rough drafts?
* Image credit: Paul Snyder (Creation Swap)