Instead of straining to write the first version of a communication, just relax and write; that’s what a draft is for.
If you ever moved into a house or an apartment, you know that your initial concern is simply getting the boxes and furniture into the new home; you will deal with putting everything in its place later. Similarly, in writing, a draft is the initial “unloading” of your ideas. Get your information down first, then worry about rearranging things and doing the fine tuning later. The problem is that we have become a one-draft culture: We bang away on the keyboard and can’t wait to hit send. That costs us in wasted time when we have to clarify what we said for confused readers who write us or call us.
Here are a few suggestions regarding the drafting phase of writing:
- Resist the urge to hastily cobble together a first version that stands as the only version.
- As you draft, don’t stop to make changes. Continue to lay out your thoughts, and clean it up in the revising phase of writing.
- Know that if you are struggling to write a draft, perhaps you missed an important first step: organize your thoughts before you begin.
When writing a draft, don’t spend hours staring at a blank screen, waiting for some spirit to deliver a burst of literary inspiration. And once you start to gain momentum, don’t listen to the voice in your head that questions and criticizes what you write. Every writer hears that voice, but the time to listen is later, when you revise. When drafting, just relax and write.
Most writers probably will find it more effective and efficient to write from beginning to end and then make changes. That way, they can concentrate on their material and ensure that they convey their intended meaning and that they include the necessary details. A polished version will emerge in the revising phase, where the trimming, shaping, and crafting happens.
Some writers perfect their writing paragraph by paragraph. They repeatedly interrupt themselves to fix things and to use a dictionary or a thesaurus to double-check words, so that everything is exactly the way they want it. If that approach works for you, don’t change. But many writers will find that the painstaking effort to make every sentence flawless is wasted effort if those sentences get deleted in the editing process. That frequently happens, because once you see them in the context of all the other information, you realize they are not important.
The drafting process can be more difficult and more time consuming if you don’t organize your thinking first to provide yourself a blueprint for what you want to create. Use an informal brainstorming exercise that enables you to see the topics that are vaguely floating in your head. Write the topics on paper or on the screen in a vertical list. You can decide what are the best topics, what are the unimportant and irrelevant ones, which topics are related, and how you can arrange your topics in a logical, coherent order.
Ken O’Quinn is a communications workshop leader and a corporate writing coach. A former Associated Press writer, he is a co-author of “Focus on Them,” a book about leadership.