Creating a First Draft – Getting Your Words to the Page

How does one create a first draft for any piece of writing – whether it’s a blog post, a chapter in a book, an email or an entire novel? The best advice I have is to give yourself permission to “write what comes” – keep the pen moving on the page, or fingers moving on the keyboard. Set a timer, start with ten minutes, and get those words in your head onto the page without trying to edit or find the perfect word. Remember that this is the “fresh writing” stage, a time to let the words flow. Editing comes later.

First drafts are messy and imperfect, at the cutting edge of the creative process. Allowing less-than-perfect words to arise on the page can be a challenge. What has helped me when I get stuck in “needing my writing to be perfect” is to give myself permission to write the worst draft in the world. Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird, has an entire chapter devoted to this subject. If you are curious, have a look at “Shitty First Drafts”. I recently let myself do ten minutes of timed writing after reading a section of her chapter, and this is part of what I wrote:

“Some of the best advice I ever received from my writing mentor, Michele, about breaking through the perfectionism that was blocking my writing, was ‘let yourself write the worst words in the world.’ At that point in developing my manuscript I was feeling really stuck, like every word had to be perfect. I was so worried about getting all the words right I had almost stopped writing. When Michele told me to go home and write the worst chapter ever, I felt as if the air had been let into a very stuffy room, the windows opened, curtains drawn to let the sun shine in. Whew!”

I sat down with my notebook, infused with a sense of curiosity. When I completed my timed writing, I let that new draft sit for a while, savoring the fun I’d had with my “bad writing”. A couple of weeks later I read that chapter aloud, with no other audience but me, and I was amazed. The writing was actually pretty darn good. Besides being fun, my writing opened up in new ways. I had some great energy to continue on with my memoir now what I knew how to bypass my perfectionism.

What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not possible to write something truly shitty. There is always something strong, something that shines, some gem that stands out that I can take forward into whatever else I write next. And the best part for me? It’s fun. As my mentor teaches, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

When I write, I focus on one person who will be supported by hearing what I have to say. Is that you? If you would like to learn more about my writing circles and retreats, and my book, The Chocolate Pilgrim, please go to my website for details:

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