Last week’s copywriting post described the advantages of writing rough-and-ready first drafts.
But advice is easy to give—and often hard to follow. In a comment to my post, copywriter Cindy Bidar allowed she found speedy, imperfect first drafts “nearly impossible” to write.
Letting go of perfectionism is tough. That’s why today’s post shares nuts-and-bolts tips: 8 easy steps that help you make fast, dirty first drafts part of your writing routine.
The key word is routine.
Have you made slow first drafts a habit?
Maybe you recognize the benefits of turning out fast, less-than-perfect first draft copy.
But when the time comes to a sit down and write it, you can’t. Your mind wanders. You edit compulsively. You can’t get the words to tumble easily out of your head and onto the screen.
Because careful, fussed-over first drafts have become an ingrained habit for you. Habits don’t change overnight. It takes effort to unlearn them—and adopt new routines.
How to make fast first drafts part of your writing routine
To drop a habit, you have to wholeheartedly desire change. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Because part of you stubbornly holds on to old ways.
You’re comfortable with your routine. If you’re a tiny bit superstitious—I admit I am—you may feel like you’ll jinx your work by changing any part of your routine.
If this sounds like you, I recommend Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. Leo provides a wealth of solid advice on the psychology and methodology of adopting new habits.
8 steps that speed you to fast and dirty first drafts
Once you feel committed to trying out fast, messy first drafts, ease into it with the following steps:
- Prepare and gather resources. Before sitting down to write a first draft, make sure you’re prepared. Don’t rush to write until you’ve completed research, conducted interviews, organized notes and sketched an outline, mind map or other organizational frame for your project.
- Parcel the project into manageable chunks. Sometimes it’s impossible to turn out a first draft in a single sitting. If you’re working on a large or multi-part project and juggling other work, you’ll need to divide the work into first-draft sections over days—or even weeks.
- Set realistic daily goals. As you parse your project, decide what you want to accomplish daily—and pencil this goal onto a calendar or organizer. Mark your deadline, then work backwards, writing down your first-draft goals over a number of hours and days. If it’s a big project, like a website, pencil in first draft goals in sections—such as individual pages. Make meeting that goal a daily deadline.
- Write head, subheads and bullets. Some copy gurus suggest writing 100 headlines. I usually write at least 10—but I save headline brainstorming until after the first draft is hatched. To start, I write a few “working heads”—imperfect headlines I know I’ll rewrite later—and move forward with subheads. Like the head, I keep subheads malleable at this point, often drafting them to synopsize proceeding content. Underneath the subheads I dump chunks of supporting content. Some content lends itself to bullets and lists. But most material is messy and inchoate at this point—remember you’re trying to push out a draft, not polished copy.
- Set time parameters. I find projects expand in direct proportion to the time you allot them. To help you stay on task and accomplish daily goals, try setting time limits. I use an hourglass—the tangibility of seeing time slip away keeps me moving—but an egg timer works as well. The point is to allocate time for a task, stick with the work, then stop when the time is up. Make sure you include short breaks in your drafting schedule.
- Keep moving forward. Once you start working, keep at it for the time allotted. You’ll find your mind wandering. Gently but firmly direct your thoughts back to your work. Remember, your mission is to get a narrative, ideas and phrases out of your head and onto the screen.
- Ignore your inner editor. If you’re like me, you can spend hours crafting a lede. Now is not the time. Remember, writing and editing are two distinct processes. You might try synopsizing material—or if you’re really stuck, just write “snappy lede here” or “full explanation here”—and continue on. Let go of perfect word selection, phrase revision or paragraph reordering. These tasks are crucial—but not now.
- Reward yourself for meeting your first draft goals. Once your time is up and some semblance of your work is on the screen, take a break. Go ahead, check your email, dip into the Tweetstream, read your favorite blog or do whatever you find pleasurable and relaxing. Again, assign a time limit for breaks so your respite doesn’t morph into procrastination.
Bad is good: Accept imperfection and take action.
I’ve noticed that successful people take action. It’s a key characteristic that separates them from other smart, talented and creative—but frustrated—folks.
That’s why I’ve come to accept “bad is good” for first draft copy. Letting go of perfectionism frees you to take action.
So why not cut loose today? Write a fast and bad first draft—you’ll see it’s plenty good to go.