One of the surest signs of a professional writer is that his or her first drafts are absolutely terrible and often unreadable.

Surprised? It’s true. While most non-writers assume that those of us who earn a living stringing words together try to create brilliance and beauty with every keystroke, the simple fact is that our real skill emerges in the rewrite stage.

For a serious writer, a first draft serves just one purpose: to record initial thoughts and concepts on paper (or phosphors) so they don’t disappear. In fact, I usually start my first drafts somewhere in the middle, so I’m assured of getting all the important points I want to make in place before I have a chance to forget them. Then I’ll typically craft my conclusion before going back to write the beginning.

A college professor taught me that rewriting is when writers are at their best. That’s when we polish and refine. It’s when we replace hackneyed expressions and overused words with lyrical phrasing. We dissect and destroy every paragraph in the hope of finding something more communicative and beautiful.

In fact, I’ll typically devote far more time to rewrites than I do to the first draft. And even after I’ve rewritten something several times, I’ll put it aside and perform another rewrite the next morning. I don’t know a single writer who points to something that he or she had written and says that it’s perfect.  Instead, we all know that just one more rewrite would make it even better.

The lesson for the non-writers out there? Don’t be intimidated by writing. Your first draft doesn’t need to be a thing of beauty or even decent. Concentrate on getting your raw thoughts out and then go back and polish them. The more energy you put into rewrites, the better a writer you’ll become.