I hate throwing up.
I hate it so much that I’d rather suffer through violent nausea, cold sweats, and overactive saliva glands in my fight to keep it down.
Even though I know that I’ll feel better if I just let it all out.
It won’t be pretty. There’ll be ugly crying, snot bubbles, and unnecessary sound effects. But I’ll be over the worst of it.
Yet although I know better, I don’t do better. I still try to avoid the trauma.
For many B2B marketers, the thought of writing anything – a blog, landing page, report, or email campaign – makes them want to vom. With sweaty palms and heart palpitations, they avoid the inevitable at all costs, worried that whatever comes out will look and sound like shit.
The truth is, it probably will.
Which is why most writers – even the most successful – start with a “shitty first draft”, aka the Frankendraft, the zero draft, the rough draft, the vomit draft.
The goal of the shitty first draft is to get whatever’s in your head onto the page or screen so that you have something to rewrite and edit later. It’s a brain dump, a purge, a spewing discharge. No editing. No reading or rewriting what you’ve written. No fixing grammar and spelling errors. Just get it all out. Even if you ugly cry while doing it.
Know that it’ll be a hot mess, but once it’s out in all its shitty glory, you’ll feel lighter.
Don’t hold back
One of the hardest parts about writing is starting. A blank page or blinking cursor can be intimidating, taunting, daring you to get going.
A vom draft is not meant to be seen by anyone. It’s not meant to flow or make sense. It’s supposed to be messy. You’ll have a chance to clean up your mess and spritz it with air freshener in the second and third drafts.
For now, give yourself permission to produce shit work. It’s the only way to silence your inner editor and critic who have no role in this stage of the writing process.
[Side note: The shitty first draft is actually the second step in the writing process. The first is mind-mapping or outlining, but that’s a post for another day.]
Tips for writing a perfectly imperfect shitty first draft
Writing is a process. And processes involve a few steps. No one gets it right the first time – even the greats.
- Let go of perfectionism. The clue is in the name. The shitty first draft is not supposed to be perfect or even good.
- Don’t edit. Resist the urge to rewrite a sentence or paragraph over and over; it’s a form of procrastination that will prevent you from ever getting the first draft done. Forget about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and word selection. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t think before you write, just get things down on paper. Most if it will be unusable anyway.
- Race against the clock. Set a timer for 30 mins, an hour, whatever your attention span allows, and write as fast as possible without stopping. If you get stuck, write nonsense words to keep the momentum going.
- Start anywhere. Start at the end. Start at the beginning. Start in the middle of a sentence or idea – just start. You can puzzle everything together later.
- Aim for intentional, unpolished imperfection. Write your entire first draft in one go, with its ragged sentences, sections that repeat, and parts that make no damn sense so you can see the big picture. Accept that it won’t be complete. It may be illogical. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you want to say or what your final conclusions will be at this point. Don’t stress about the details for now. Writing imperfectly in your first draft gives you the freedom to chop up, delete, or drastically alter what you’ve written later in the writing process.
- Use the TK journalism trick. If you need to add or research something, don’t stop writing to do the research – that’s a sure-fire way to fall down a procrastination rabbit hole. Rather type “TK” (as in “to come” – and no, I don’t know why it’s TK and not TC) as a placeholder to be filled during editing.
- Let it percolate. Once you’ve completed your first draft, walk away. Don’t even look at what you’ve written until tomorrow. Time away lets your brain digest what you’ve written and come up with new ideas and connections. If you’re in a rush, take at least an hour’s break before tackling your second draft.
- Live on the edge. If you’re a real daredevil and perform under pressure, try writing your first draft using apps like Flowstate and Squibler. Known as The Most Dangerous Writing App, Squibler erases all your progress if you stop writing for five seconds. Terrifying? Yes. Sadistic? Yes. Effective? Hell yes. If you know all your work will be gone in five seconds, there’s no time to stop and think about phrasing and word choice.
- Write blind. If Squibler makes your risk-averse heart pound, try blind writing. Change your font colour to white so you can’t see what you’ve written. Only change it to black once you’ve let it percolate and are ready to edit.
- Have fun. Remember, no one is going to see this, so go off on tangents, write nonsense, let it all hang out.
Good writing isn’t about producing a high-quality first draft. It’s about honing your ability to recognise what’s good in your draft and scrapping the rest. You know, like finding the chunks of carrot in vomit. They’re always there.
So, heave ho, my friend, and spew your guts. You’ll feel better for it.Did you know? Turns out you can polish a turd. Well, we can anyway. If you’ve written an article yourself and aren’t quite happy with it, or received a piece of content that doesn’t hit the mark, send it to us. We’ll make your shit shine.
With your first draft done, you’ll move on to the editing phase of the writing process. Here’s Jim Taylor’s eight-step editing process to help you whip your writing into shape.