We writers are never more counterproductive than when we obsess over the quality of our first drafts.
Be it an article, blog post, short story, or novel, the first draft is never meant to stand alone.
While it’s tempting to polish as you go along, there are certain aspects of your writing you should forget about until you’re ready to revise.
Forget about all those lessons you learned in school for now. A first draft is about getting your ideas down on the page. Unless you’re writing an essay or thesis for school, your grammar doesn’t need to follow rigid rules, anyway.
Searching for, or correcting, spelling mistakes as you go along is a waste of time. Instead, save that energy for a couple of proofreading passes when your content is complete.
In an article or essay, transitions between paragraphs make for smoother, more logical reading. In a short story or novel, transitions between chapters or scenes exist for the same reason. The very act of smoothing does not belong in a first draft. Once you have all your key points down and finalized, you can go back to write transitions.
4. Word Count
Don’t waste time checking your word count after every paragraph you write. If you’re making all the points you need to make (and not making too many, or going off on tangents), most times you’ll naturally hit your word count ball park. From there, you can pare down, or add to your piece, accordingly.
5. Word Choice
Let yourself use the language that comes to you naturally while you work on your first draft. Continually stopping to censor your word choice or search for a better term will only make the process longer and more arduous. Save the beautifying for your second draft.
For an article or blog post, it’s a good idea to write your title first so you’re forced to focus on one main point. However, for fiction or creative non-fiction, titles are relatively unimportant until the product is finished. They’ll probably change along the way. Give yourself a working title and forget about it until your first draft is complete.
7. Minor Details
The bulk of your major research should be finished prior to starting a piece of writing, but what about those nagging little details? Stopping mid-paragraph to look up minor details interrupts the flow of your writing, and it’s completely unnecessary. Simply highlight or otherwise mark the spot where you need to do more research, and move along.
When you get bogged down with every little thing that bothers you about your writing, you greatly increase the chances of never finishing. Ever.
Give yourself some breathing space from your work before you return to revise and look for weaknesses.
What do you need to forget about to achieve first draft freedom?
Today’s Challenge: When you start writing the first draft of your next work-in-progress, challenge yourself to just write, and leave these details for future drafts.
About the Author: Suzannah Windsor Freeman is the founder of Write It Sideways, a blog where writers learn new skills, define their goals, and increase their productivity. She is co-founder of the Better Writing Habits challenge.