How to Write Your Shitty First Draft

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If you have ever tried to write anything, you know that voice. The one that tells you that you aren’t good enough. The doubting nag that whispers tales of failure before you’ve even begun.

Better go do the dishes, fold the clothes, put in the roast. Chores never sounded so inviting. Anything to avoid finding out what’s really in that brain of yours, waiting to seep onto the blank page. Procrastination is easy. Writing is hard, but there are ways to make it more manageable.

Get organized

Picture the house of your dreams. It probably has walls, a roof, snazzy landscaping, and all the furnishings and excess you can imagine. Put that same logic into creating an outline. You know what you want to write about, so organize your ideas. Build profiles for those juicy characters waiting in the wings to be heard. Have a specific setting? Write down your ideas.

Rough it in

Those 2X4s aren’t going to nail themselves up. Once you are organized, build it. Put up those damn walls! A dream stays a dream until you put in the elbow grease.

There is something magical about getting the words on paper. It becomes real. Your brain feels the release of pressure from your tumbling thoughts.

What if it sounds like crud? So what! Remember this – you will spend most of your writing time re-writing, so this is the time to just get it out; you can polish it later. Oftentimes, the shitty first draft isn’t nearly as bad as you thought.

Sift through the rubble

Feeling stuck? Here’s a tip – stop chasing perfectionism. That dream house will never get built if you continually overthink what you are writing. It is very easy to get caught up in reading all the how-to articles and comparing yourself to other writers. Trust your voice and let it speak.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.
~ Anne Lamott

Still staring at a blank page?

  • Maybe you are overwhelmed by the idea of outlining and organizing. Not everyone likes to write an outline (like yours truly). Do like Stephen King and just write; he doesn’t even take notes. Seems to be working just fine for him. And others like to do a combination of free-writing and outlining. Experiment to find the best way to get your ideas out.
  • Decide what time of day you are most creative and try to write at that same time every day. Consistency and routine are very helpful for writers, even if that doesn’t sound very “creative.” If the time you are available and the time you are most creative do not line up, just try your best. Write first thing in the morning, during a lunch break, or before bed. The key will be to do it consistently, even if it is just 10 minutes. You will be surprised how much you can write when you have limited time.

  • Set timers. This will help keep you on task, especially if you have an open day. You can even space out your time if you have other tasks to get done in between writing spurts (plus, it really helps to take breaks). One method, called the Pomodoro Technique, uses a timer for 25-minute intervals, each followed by a short break. This can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • Find a distraction-free space to write. If you are at home, this isn’t always easy, so you may have to carve out an area of the house to write. Apps like Noisli can help keep you productive if you don’t like the silence but prefer staying home to paying $6 for a coffee.

Don’t just dream about being a writer – be one. Get that house built before picking out the furniture. Write like the wind, my friend. Your contractor (brain) will thank you.


Tell me: What techniques do you use to get that first draft out into the world?