The Perfect Is the Enemy of the First Draft

The Perfect Is the Enemy of the First Draft

Many writing coaches recommend writing the first draft of a blog post, chapter, or scene as quickly as possible without stopping to rewrite or edit. The idea is once you’ve got that first draft down, however imperfect, you’ll have broken through your writer’s block and procrastination, and accelerated the entire writing process. That’s not how I do it. I rewrite each sentence several times before moving on to the next. I pause to fact check, to look in the thesaurus for the exact right word, to get more coffee, to watch of few minutes of “Better Call Saul”…

Though I knew it would be difficult for me, I decided to try the technique to create the first draft of this article. I started my timer and set about getting four hundred words down in the shortest time possible, without rewriting or editing. My subject: The First Draft. It took me thirteen minutes! But, the result was horrifying! Here’s a sample:

I’ve been reading a lot on how to make progress on your writing, rather how to get your writing done without procrastination. The key recommendations, a theme, if you will, in my reading is that you should spend a fair amount of time researching what you are going to write about, and then think about your topic, but when the time comes to write, just start writing as rapidly as you can, with a word count goal per minute. Or just a word count goal. I’m sure that that is wrong. This is a painful exercise. I am so used to rewriting every sentence, immediately after I have written it as well as checking the punctuation and spelling and correcting it immediately after I’ve written it. Slow down, Sam, you are making mistakes. In any case, the process is research/think, write rapidly, self-edit, self-edit again, self-edit again, then send it to a professional editor. What did Abraham Lincoln say: “I’d spend 90% of the time sharpening the saw, and 10% cutting down the tree.”

Embarrassing, huh? In spite of my horror and embarrassment, I think the experiment was a success. The technique did get me to a finished article in much less time and with much less stress than usual. I’ll be using this technique from now on. Next time I’ll try for twelve minutes.

By |2018-03-29T11:09:21+00:00May 10, 2016|Writing|Comments Off on The Perfect Is the Enemy of the First Draft

About the Author:

Sam Henrie is President and Founder of Wheatmark, Inc., and Past President of the Arizona Book Publishing Association. He is Co-Chair of the Book and Movie Business Genre of the Literary Committee for the Tucson Festival of Books, the third largest book festival in the United States. Sam is also a Senior Faculty at the Authors Academy.