Your First Draft is Going to Suck: How to Write a Better First Draft
You should see my face when I write a first draft of anything. Actually, I’m glad you can’t. I make a gagging face, I sigh loudly, and I roll my eyes and say “THIS SUUUUUUUUUCKS” as I type. But I press on because I know a first draft is nothing more than a first draft. It’s not going to see the light of day, unless my arch enemy gets a hold of my computer and publishes it for all the world to see (one of my person nightmares).
The hardest part about writing is the actual writing part. But if you’re going to write, there’s no way to avoid it. And in today’s modern world of content, content, content, you will have to write at some point. Whether it’s copy for a new page on your website, your latest Facebook post, a summary of a topic you’re going to present on, or an email to a prospect, you will likely be starting at a blank page at some point. And it’s daunting. The blank page always is. So how do you conquer that feeling of inadequacy and dread whenever you need to start typing?
It’s as simple as that. You have to start somewhere and your somewhere is always going to be a first draft. You can’t skip it. The first draft is and will always be a part of the writing process. But the great thing about first drafts is that they can suck. They can be the worst thing you’ve ever written in your life. I have yet to meet anyone who writes something they don’t ultimately end up revising. It’s just a part of the process.
So please do not ever be intimidated by a blank page. Look at it as nothing more than your starting point. And then start.
The other great thing about first drafts? They can be edited.
It is always easier to edit something than it is to write it. By giving yourself a first draft – terrible as it may be – you now have something to work with. You have something to improve. You have something that is one step closer to publishing or sending. So write the first draft and then get to editing.
Don’t Spin Your Wheels – How to Write A More Effective First Draft
The ultimate goal with any first draft is getting it as close as possible to the final draft. It obviously doesn’t do you much good to write something only if it’s so off base that you need to completely overhaul it. Getting a first draft that’s closer to a final version is the goal. And there are ways to write that allow you to do that.
If you’re writing a short Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram post or really anything less than 500 hundred words, this won’t be as much of an issue. But if you’re trying to write a longer post, a sales page on your website, or a piece of cornerstone content, this method will help.
Here’s how I like to tackle writing projects, big and smallish.
Know what you are writing about.
This sounds painfully obvious, but the most daunting type of writing people do is when they sit down to write because something or someone else said they have to. Say you listened to a podcast and some marketing guru said you need to write a blog post a day, so you sit down to write your day’s post. Or let’s say Facebook is yelling at you because your followers haven’t heard from you in 5 days.
These might be great reasons to write and create some content, but they are going to make it a lot harder for you to make something that feels authentic and is easy to write. There’s a reason for that.
Good content is planned, not created on the fly. It’s why I work with clients to design content strategies that span months at a time. When you plan content, the reason you’re writing fits in to a larger picture, and that purpose and design is going to help you put words on a page faster than if you’re just winging it.
Know who you are writing to.
If you were planning a speech about your area of expertise, you would address a group of toddlers much different than you address a group of CEOs. The messaging in those two scenarios need to take the audience into account if you want your audience to respond to what you have to say.
Writing is no different. A lot of people assume because something is going online it should cater to the largest audience possible. That’s simply not true. You cannot be all things to all people, and you’re writing should reflect that. Know who your target audience is for your piece and write to only them.
Outlines aren’t just for middle school English class.
If you know what you’re writing about (see item number one), you should have a general idea of what you want to say. And usually that boils to a few main points that you expand on with sentences and paragraphs.
Those main points should become the subheadings of your content. Subheadings help in a couple different ways:
Visually, they help break up a post so the reader can get a better sense of what the entire post is about. It also provides a bit of rest. As dauting as it is to write words on a page, it’s dauting for your reader to see 1,000 words only broken up by periods and the occasion paragraph break. Headings break up a post into more digestible parts.
Google loves when you use subheadings. Google wants clues to help it determine what you’ve written about. If you only give it a title to work with, Google might have to make some guesses about your copy. Subheadings reinforce what you’re writing about so Google can share it in the right search results.
I’ve used this practice when writing this blog post. You can see I’ve broken it up with subheadings and lists. Adding subheadings helped me structure this longer post while also letting you more easily read and understand it. Easier for you, easier for me. It’s a win-win.
Don’t revise as you write.
The point of a first draft is not to edit. Let your fingers fly across the keys and don’t give a second thought as to whether or not you need a comma in that last sentence. There will be a time for revisions, but it’s not while writing your first draft. Plus, you might end up deleting that sentence anyway, so why spend drafting time worrying about comma placement. Just write.
Or speak. Some people work better when they can speak about a topic but freeze when asked to type it out. If this is you, there’s an app for that. Smartphones come with a speech to text feature. Open up a note in your phone and start talking. You can then transfer that text to a word or Google doc. There’s your first draft. Now start editing.
There is one caveat to all of this: You don’t have to write.
Writing isn’t for everyone. Just like not everyone can take a good photo or speak to an audience of hundreds, not everyone can write. And if that’s you, there’s no reason to spin your wheels writing draft after draft if it sucks the life out of you.
Hiring a copywriter might actually be the best thing for your business. A good copywriter may be worth their weight in gold to you. They are trained to write engaging, persuasive copy. So leave that part up to them and free up your time to do whatever it is that you do best.
I love writing. It's my jam. And my bread and butter. If you want help with your writing projects and marketing copy, check out my services page.