Forget These 7 Things for First Draft Freedom

by Suzannah Freeman

Free girl in field

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.

They are:

1. Grammar

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.

2. Spelling

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.

3. Transitions

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.

6. Title

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.

  • Anonymous

    These are great ideas. I must say I learned to do many of them by participating in NaNoWriMo. I’m an editor by profession (textbooks), so it’s hard for me to shut that off when I’m writing. Have a deadline like Nano really put my feet to the fire. That deadline hanging over my head, and meeting and talking w/ fellow Wrimos at write-ins, pushed me to forget about spelling, grammar, and even word choice (just throw down the first word that comes to mind! you can change it later!). It was tough at first, but I got the hang of it.

    And I’ve never been good at titles, so I always throw down a working title to my stories. Eventually, sometimes at the very end, I come up with a real title. So that I haven’t worried about as much. When I can’t remember a detail, or if I know I’ll need to research more to get details, I use the comment feature in MS Word to make a note to myself. Very helpful, and I can keep on writing.

    But it’s a process to learn to do these. So if you’re not successful you’re first time out, don’t get discouraged. It takes how long to learn a habit? Yeah, well, you’re learning new ones. It’s a process, not flipping a switch. And if I – an editor at heart – can do it, you sure can! 😉

    • NaNo definitely helps you leave these things out of your first draft—that is, if you want to finish in time! I find it difficult not to self-edit along the way, but I’m working on it.

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  • Robin

    Thanks! Have been following and writing down suggestions every day, trying to incorporate into daily habits. This is a great one since am in the middle of writing first draft started during Nano. Needed the reminder. My inner editor’s been slowly me down lately. Will have to lock him back in for a while. 🙂

    • My inner editor is terrible, too. I try to tell myself the mistakes will still be there later. They won’t go anywhere!

  • Stamperdad

    Good article. I live by Hemingway’s quote, “First drafts are shit.” Just write, then edit.

    • LOL I love that quote LOL

    • Yep, they’re not usually very good 😉

  • Eporter70

    As many times as I read these or am reminded of them, I still have difficulty remembering them!

    Thanks for the refresher.

  • When writing the first draft I am always censoring myself instead of letting all my ideas free flow at first and as a result I end up with a very sub par article. Most of the time I discover that if I just allow myself to relax and let it flow that when I do go back to edit it the only thing I might have to do is the grammar and spelling. Because I allowed myself to “just right” without worrying about anything else I sometimes come up with my best stuff.

    • It’s not easy to spot your own weaknesses during the process of writing, so it’s probably not worth correcting or editing as you go along. More problems will surface after some time away, so it’s probably best to leave them all for the next draft.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great point! If that inner editor of ours would step aside, we’d likely come up with better work. Our ideas are great, it’s the inner editor that messes things up!

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  • I couldn’t agree more – the first draft is about story, getting the ideas down – spelling, grammar and structure should be secondary. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, even the research can wait until the next draft.

  • I find it impossible not to self-edit, but I’m trying to change that.

  • I’m just sitting down and preparing to write 2,000 words this evening. Your post is timed perfectly. I have a bad habit of obsessing over what I wrote last time, polishing it further before moving forward. Now, I’m free to move ahead.

    Thanks!

  • I’m just sitting down and preparing to write 2,000 words this evening. Your post is timed perfectly. I have a bad habit of obsessing over what I wrote last time, polishing it further before moving forward. Now, I’m free to move ahead.

    Thanks!

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