First Things First :: Writing the Rough Draft

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After months, maybe years of hearing “You should write a book!” you’ve finally sat down at your computer to release your wisdom and wit for the masses. And it hits you. Panic. Never has a blank page looked so large or so… blank. Sure you have an outline and key points, but how do you turn that into the life-changing, bestselling manuscript you thought for sure you were capable of?

Never fear, dear writers. We have all been there. There are few harder components of writing than the beginning, so we are here to help!

3 Ways to Get Started on Your Rough Draft

1. Embrace the ugliness

It’s going to be ugly. Accept it. No one will be impressed. Embrace it. If you can begin with this mindset about your rough draft, you’re on the road to success!

Dan J. Fiore, winner of the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition states,

Know what one of the most frustrating things about first drafts are? They’re always terrible…

Instead of letting this discourage you, flip it around and use it to your advantage. Remind yourself over and over again as you’re writing that you give yourself permission to write terribly. Tell that little voice in your head that keeps saying to you, This is awful, that it’s okay. Name an author, any author. Go ahead. Guess what? His or her first drafts [are terrible too.] Keep reminding yourself of that.

By embracing the ugliness of the rough draft, you can simply pour out your ideas onto the page without concern for their readability. Are you missing the perfect anecdote? Skip over it. Are you still waiting for just the right voice for your character? You can fix that later. Are you realizing that a certain portion needs further research? Set aside some time to do that soon.

Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, suggests,

Ban self-slandering remarks. Don’t beat yourself up by saying things like I’m a crappy writer or this is awful. [The first draft] is the content equivalent of staying home alone in your jammies all day and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Revel in it. There’s no one around to judge.

2. Be willing to take a step back

Often it isn’t the writing that is so hard about the rough draft, but instead the thinking. If you’ve been stuck on that first page for a while, perhaps you need to spend more time thinking about the message.

Have you really honed in on the key points? Do you have a great deal of clarity on what you want the reader to walk away with? If you are muddled here, you will really struggle to get those first words on paper.

Doug Kessler, a successful content writer, is quoted as saying,

If I’m really struggling, it’s usually not about the writing – it’s about the thinking: I just don’t really have the story down yet. So more research or groping with the outline can unstick me.

3. The best outline is one you don’t always obey

We believe in outlines. We do! But we also know that often the best parts of a story emerge as we are writing it. So begin with an outline, perhaps using one of these methods:

  • The traditional format we all learned in school
  • A simple list of ideas
  • Key point headers with sub-points underneath
  • Mind mapping
  • Or one of these methods

However, once you begin writing, don’t let the outline boss you around too much. Or, as Dan Fiore thinks of it, the outline shouldn’t be a GPS barking at you when you deviate off course. He states,

If a character wants to go in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, by all means go check it out. See where that scary road leads. It might lead to a better story. It might lead to fixing a problem you had earlier (or will run into later) in the story. Or it could be a dead end. But guess what, dead ends are okay. Dead ends make you a better writer. Just go back the way you came and find a new route.

By embracing the ugliness, giving more thought to your main point and utilizing an outline, the daunting task of writing your rough draft can easily be accomplished!

Once you have that ugly rough draft finished, the fun begins! Be on the lookout for our next post, Is this really what you meant to say?  where we discuss voice, tone and how to craft your words into your message.

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