The First Isn’t Always The Worst: How to Find That Nugget of Genius in Your Worst Work

It’s commonly believed that our first draft is always rough, terrible and probably no good for publishing. Most likely your first draft is rough, but that doesn’t mean it’s not cut out to be a diamond. Yes, it’s probably a minefield of errors and confusing language, but that’s a natural part of getting the ideas out of your brain and onto the word processor. Despite its disheveled appearance, our first draft (if done right)can be filled with smart insights derived from our subconscious.

Whatever you do to get your work done, it’s always worth going back to the first draft (and second and third) because, in many cases, it shows the progress of your work as it gets better. There’s always at least one nugget of genius in there. The trick is finding it. Here’s a few ways I like to re-use my first drafts later on in my writing process, whether they end up forgotten at the top of a word doc or resuscitated into a fine piece of copy.

Mine for Gold

A great way to get past those moment when you’re feeling stuck is to go back into your first draft, identify the good stuff, and bring it back to life in a current or future version. They might need polishing, but you’re bound to find a few good lines (or ideas) that you’ve forgotten about since you wrote it.

Remember the Objective

The more I try to write or evolve a story, the more I might find myself drifting further and further away from the original concept that defines our creative strategy. Going into new territory can be great – especially if you’re pushing the idea further. However, when you feel like you’re getting off track, go back to your first draft. It’s probably the copy most closely tied to the initial strategic idea.

Find a New Route

Sometimes you get stuck on one idea and go down a rabbit hole, writing new draft after new draft in the same direction. Sometimes that rabbit hole leads to a wonderland. Sometimes that rabbit hole leads to a pit of despair. When I get stuck and need a little inspiration, I go back to my first draft to see if anything new sticks out. If it does, I use that as the start of a new draft (and a new rabbit hole). It’s a simple way to refresh your brain and recharge your writing.

Yes, your first draft is rough. Getting it out is also crazy frustrating. There’s been many times where I’ve written a first draft only to hate every letter in it, wanting to toss it aside and start anew. This is perfectly fine if your first draft has given you new inspiration and the only way to start putting these new ideas down is to start fresh. But if your first draft hasn’t gotten you any further, don’t put it aside and stare at the blank page. Keep going. The best stuff might be a few characters away.