Writer’s Block. Those two little words can derail just about any writing session.
One of the major causes of writer’s block is perfectionism: trying to make everything perfect in the first draft.
When you try to do both the writing and the editing, you’re running your creative brain and your logical brain at the same time. That can kill your productivity.
Instead, use only your creative brain to write the “crappy” first draft.
Pull up your outline notes and just write whatever pops into your head; ignore grammar, spelling, and formatting—just get the words on the paper first. “Write with the door closed,” as Stephen King says.
In Anne Lamott’s popular book about writing, Bird by Bird, she suggests the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out on the page.
No one else has to see the first draft, so it’s okay to be messy. You can fix it later, in the second and third drafts, as you edit.
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Here are some tips on writing your crappy first draft:
Using your outline and index card notes as guidelines, write in a stream-of-consciousness style.
Imagine you’re in a one-to-one conversation with your ideal reader about their problems and how your book can solve them. People appreciate good, practical advice in plain, simple language.
When you feel the need to research a website, look up a quote, or check something that you haven’t figured out yet, leave a note in those places (i.e., “Check _____”) so you can keep writing from your creative brain without interruption.
If you feel stuck in certain sections as you write, jot a note to remind yourself that you skipped that section and then continue writing.
Don’t spend time editing or worrying about the words. Remember, you’re trying to get through this draft as quickly as possible by writing with your creative brain.
Even though you’re writing a crappy first draft, make sure to create valuable content for your book. Your end goal is to provide a great reading experience for your readers.
A crappy first draft does not mean it should also have crappy content; it means it has good content which can be cleaned up in the second and third drafts.
First, identify the core problem. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes: describe their problem and then provide an action plan with potential solutions to this problem.
Next, prove that you know what you’re talking about by sharing a little about yourself and how you are qualified to write this book. Write in a way which shows you understand their pain points.
Break down solutions into consumable parts; write step-by-step instructions, checklists, bullet points, and information on how to implement what you teach.
Tell stories in each section or chapter. You can talk about your personal experiences, or you can share the stories other people told you which relate to your topic.
People love hearing stories and often remember the stories more than the actual concepts, so be sure to include many in your book.
Include websites, resources, and links to studies which further explain the concepts in your book. You can also include charts, graphs, and images to help them understand the concept better if necessary.
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In concluding your book, you might include a simple, step-by-step checklist to guide your reader in how to apply what they learned. Try to limit this to just a page or two.
Keep in mind, many of today’s readers don’t have time to read long passages of text. Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Also, use subheads to break up sections and make them easy to identify. White space is your friend!
Use bullet points and number sequences for lists. Do whatever it takes to make it easy for your readers to figure out what you’re saying.
Writing Subsequent Drafts
Writing the crappy first draft is necessary as you can’t edit a blank page. However, you will need to do some self-editing—your second and third drafts—before handing over your work to an editor.
Print a copy of your first draft so can read it over and write notes on it. Then set the draft aside. Take a break from your book for a couple of days, even if you’re hurrying to get it out the door.
Editing will be easier with fresh eyes. Give yourself at least a day or two between the first and second drafts.
Then, read the entire thing with the reader’s perspective in mind. Ask yourself questions, such as:
- Does it flow?
- Does it make sense?
- Is it repetitive?
- Am I bored by it?
- Does it sound too formal or too casual?
- Does it sound preachy or does it lack confidence?
- Are the chapters ordered properly?
- Did I leave out anything important?
Next, get a few people who may be your target audience to read it. Let them know exactly what you’re looking for and encourage them to send back comments.
Ask them the same questions you asked yourself. Pay attention to their critiques, positive comments, and constructive criticism as they can be useful. Save the comments in a file so you can refer to them later when you’re editing your second and third drafts.
The Second Draft
Now you’re ready to do any big restructuring that’s needed.
Create a new outline or just take your printed copy and use arrows to indicate where you’ll move blocks of text. Then go back to your computer to do a bit of tweaking and rewriting, such as changing transition words to make sentences flow.
Next, rewrite the entire first draft based on your notes and the comments you received from other people. Read the whole thing one more time to make sure everything makes sense and that you didn’t miss anything.
The Third Draft
The third draft is more of a review. At this point, you will be checking your spelling, grammar, and syntax.
You may want to read through everything out loud, carefully, one final time, just to make sure you’re not missing anything that’s glaringly obvious. Doing so will save your editor time and also yourself, as you won’t have to go back and make those corrections later.
The more books you write, the better you’ll get at writing things correctly the first time and not missing them in your second and third draft. You’ll also learn from your editor when you get the edited copy back and see any corrected mistakes.
Start Crappy, End Polished
Finally, try your best to avoid editing overkill. You might feel that something is still wrong even after rereading your manuscript a dozen times.
Continue editing if you still have time, but there comes a point when you must “put it to bed,” as they say in the publishing world.
It’s never a good idea to spend so much time rewriting one book that you lose time in writing other books. Eventually, you’ll get to the point of knowing when you’re finished and ready to start publishing.
Remember: Your goal is to move on to the next book and get each published so you can build an authority business—a catalog of books—around your writing.