How to Write a First Rate First Draft

First drafts get a pretty bad rap. We’re taught to believe they’re simply unfit for anyone’s eyes but your own. Sure, it’s true that a first draft can be a minefield of half-thoughts, grammatical errors and nonsensical tangents, but in a fast-paced, creative setting you don’t always have time to write a first draft that’s destined for the trash can. The trick to not wasting your time with a ‘do-over’ is obvious. Write a better first draft. It’s not hard either. It just takes a good think and a little patience. Here’s a few tricks I use to write a better first draft.

Slow Your Roll and Think Like Your Boss.

When we’re time crunched or excited about an idea, we have a tendency to just want to dive right in. Don’t! It’s easy to let your excitement carry you into crafting, but it’s important to first think like a creative director and try to imagine the big picture. What is the message you’re trying to get across? What’s the emotion you’re trying to evoke? What’s the big-picture story you’re trying to tell? Know your creative and communicative goals first. Then, start writing with a clear direction.

Don’t Oust the Outline

Remember in middle school when you had to write an outline for all your papers? It’s still a great idea for any writing assignment whether it’s an editorial piece, a manifesto or a script. It’s also great if you’re trying to tell a story through a succession of headlines too, like on a web page. An outline helps you clearly organize your thoughts (something many first drafts lack) and it gets you thinking about how to structure the story you’re trying to tell. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just scribble out the direction you’ve decided on and try to stick to it.

Overwrite Then Edit

If you were shooting a video or working on a photoshoot, you’d make sure to capture more raw footage than you’d actual use to ensure you can edit into a final, polished composition. The same is true for your first draft. It’s easier to cut back than it is to add to an existing piece of work. Don’t worry if your line of dialogue reads too long just yet — just get it all out there. Once you finish the draft, go back and weigh all that content. Keep the important stuff. Cut the fluff.

Finish It Later

Often times, our first draft takes a lot of energy to produce, but pre-planning, outlining, and overwriting help remove some of the mental drain we experience trying to craft a perfect piece. Once you do all that, take a hour-long break to clear your mind of the work. “Fresh” eyes will catch mistakes, recall points you forgot and help you see the piece more clearly. 


At the end of the day, your first draft is a no-lose situation. If it sucks, mine it for gold. If it’s feeling like it’s in a good place, keep refining it. Then, refine it some more. There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ first draft, because there’s nothing bad about having words on paper.


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