“The first draft of anything is shit.”
Ernest Hemingway said that, and he was right. Of course he was right.
The first draft of anything is purely conceptual. It’s about sending what’s in your head through to your hands and onto the page. You shouldn’t expect brilliance. And if you think it’s brilliant, you should check yourself big time because it’s not. It’s raw, unformed and probably full of mistakes — as it should be.
Your first draft is a jumping-off point. Be proud of it. But be honest about it.
Know to walk away
It’s hard for anyone writing anything to give it space to breathe, to marinate and percolate. It probably comes from that puritan pursuit of perfection we all have ingrained somewhere in our psyches. But more doesn’t always mean better. And in writing’s case, it never means better.
Give yourself time to mull over your arguments, constructions and calls to action. While it’s fresh in your mind, you’ll notice other pieces of writing in the digital and actual worlds that will make it better. When you do, take a pic of them or write them down, then go back to your piece and see if what you learned can be applied. Chances are it can be.
Know to ask for help
You’ll always be too close to whatever you’re writing to be objective about it. That’s why no one should edit their own work; it’s akin to giving yourself a rectal exam.
Show your work to your colleagues, your family and your friends. Get as much feedback as you can. The comments that come up multiple times are the ones to address. Then when you’re happy with where your second draft is, bring in a pro editor.
Pro editors are trained to be that objective set of eyes. They’ll tell you if something doesn’t make sense because they have no horse in your race. They’ll see things you don’t. They’ll call out things that make perfect sense to you but mean nothing to anyone else. They’ll be brutal and ruthless. And you’ll love them for it.
Know to apply these rules to everything
Emails. Presentations. Marketing materials. Dissertations. White papers. Web copy. Blog posts. A first draft can never be your best work. Sure, some lines from your V1 will wind up in the final — but probably not how you wrote them. And that’s okay. Old Ernest says so.