The First Draft...It’s Probably Going to Be Ugly

Just let go of the need to write perfectly on the first pass. Your creativity and productivity will thank you for it.

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

Just Lower Your Expectations

Many of us put on our perfectionist hat when we try to start writing. We somehow imagine that the most perfect words will just flow effortlessly from our brains to our fingertips. But in reality, that never happens.

Sometimes, we sit...and wait...and mull our ideas over...until a few minutes turn into a few hours with only a handful of words on the page to show for all this time. We’re not letting the words come through, as ugly and disorganized as they might be.

Sometimes, the pressure of wanting to write something perfectly completely stifles our creativity.

Call it writer’s block if you want, but every person who writes professionally or otherwise has dealt with this in one way or another.

“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent.”

- Malcolm Gladwell

Unfortunately, as a professional writer, you usually cannot wait for your muse, for the creativity to flow, or any of the other proverbial sayings that relate to writing. Because the client deadline is looming and the project just has to get done.

What to do?

I once heard some great advice: if you need to get something done, just aim for B- work.

You know what I mean here. Just aim to write something that is barely above average - not stellar, life changing, or the best thing that you’ve ever written. It just needs to be OK. And it needs to be out of your brain and on the page.

When we aim for perfection right off the bat, the bar is set too high and more than likely we’ll never get there.

Now, I’m not saying that we deliver B- work to the client. That’s a big no-no. But for the first pass, B- or even C+ work is a great start.

Just get it out of your head, first.

Then, worry about making it pretty and A+++. I usually do my most substantial editing (I’m talking about moving entire paragraphs, cutting entire paragraphs, and making sure all of the right connections are in place) on my final read through.

This brings me to another important point, avoid writing and editing simultaneously. Doing so almost always works against speed and productivity. Try to save the editing for later when you have fresh eyes and a clearer perspective.

Your words will never look the same the day after, or even a few hours after, you originally wrote them.

Finally, place a strict deadline on the amount of time spent on research. It’s really easy to get sucked into the dark abyss of Google and get completely overwhelmed by new information. Remember, you only need to know enough about the topic to address what the client needs, not everything under the sun.

It’s a paradox, but it’s also reality: by letting go of the need to write perfectly and limiting your research, you’ll do better work, and you’ll do it faster. And in the freelancing world, doing good work fast is the holy grail.

Here are some additional insights on how to knock out the first draft a little more quickly, and hopefully, a little more easily.

3 Simple Ways to Get the Words Flowing

  1. Just. start. writing. Even if it’s gobbledygook, get some words down on the screen. A blank screen will make you feel like a deer in headlights.

  2. Use a template. If you’re working with one of your steady clients and you’re often creating the same type of deliverable, but writing about different topics, try to create some sort of master template that you can pull out and use each time. It should help to eliminate the question of “what comes next?” when your mind is scrambling.

  3. Use voice typing or the dictation feature within your word processor. Most of us speak more fluidly and rapidly than we type, so using dictation can help to get the words flowing. There is more sophisticated software available, but free and easy is enough to get you started.

If you struggle with productivity, stay tuned next week for another post on this topic. I’ll talk about my love-hate relationship with client deadlines and how they ultimately make us all more productive. 

If you haven't done so already, be sure to grab your copy of the free guide, 5 Simple Writing Tweaks to Create Sticky Clients, by entering your info below. These are simple strategies that I use daily when I’m working on projects for clients.


Jennifer Gregg