I write terrible first drafts

There’s a common misconception about what people like me do for a living: that when our fingers make that initial contact with the keyboard, brilliance flows forth, creating first drafts that are truly works of art.

The reality is quite different. If you read my typical first draft of copy for an article, a website, a blog, or a brochure, you’d probably wonder how I manage to earn a living.

Most people get frustrated with writing because they don’t approach perfection in their first drafts. I don’t even bother trying. You see, the purpose of a first draft isn’t to capture everything perfectly; it’s to get rough thoughts and ideas on the screen (or the page). In my first drafts, I pound out half-thoughts, half-sentences, and half-baked ideas in rough order.

Then I go back and rewrite and edit and polish. I stretch those half-sentences into more fully thought-out phrases and link them with the proper transitions. I move sentences and paragraphs around, so they flow more logically and understandably. I swap out carelessly chosen words for others that are more precise or fit better in their surroundings.

In other words, I rush through my first draft just to provide a rough framework. Then I take my time to sculpt that framework into something that conveys exactly what I want to say in the way I want to say it. If I spend six hours writing something, it’s a good bet that no more than an hour or two went into composing that first draft. The rest of the time was for editing and polishing. And when I believe I’m finally done with something, I normally put it aside and look at it again the next day, invariably discovering more ways to improve it.

So when you read something that sounds brilliantly crafted and perfect, don’t assume magic flowed from the writer’s fingertips. Odds are the first draft was pretty crappy. The real magic happened in the rewrite.