How Many Drafts Does It Take to Get to the Center of a Piece of Writing?
Are you writing your next Medium post?
Working on your first book?
Whatever you’re writing, we all know it won’t be perfect the first time around (far from it). That’s why it’s important to take every single piece of writing through a certain number of drafts.
What exactly is the magic number? Well, like any good consultant who uses vagueness in their favor while answering a client:
I know, not the most helpful answer, but I don’t want to bullshit you. Like most questions you probably Google, there isn’t a silver bullet— it depends on the nature of the writing.
Is it a book or a blog post? Do you already have a specific number of revisions built in? Do you already have an editor lined up?
If you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed, I don’t blame you. Writing isn’t easy, especially if you’re just starting out.
As always, I’m here to help make your life a little less complicated.
When working on any piece of writing, consider taking it through the following five drafts:
Draft 1: Be quick
By now, it’s no secret the first draft of anything is shit. Do you want to know why? It’s because, if you do your job right, you wrote it as fast as humanly possible, run-on sentences and all. As a writer, your main goal with the first draft is simple — just get the damn thing out. Don’t self-edit, don’t rewrite as you go, and for the love of God, don’t waste time searching for the perfect word. In fact, whenever you come across a particularly tricky line and you can’t find the words, do what I do and literally type “FILL IN THE BLANK.” Not only will this help you bypass writer’s block, you’ll also avoid the pressure of coming up with something clever on the spot.
Draft 2: Be legible
Now that you’ve word vomited everything out onto the page (or screen), this is the time to slow your roll and fix any and all typos. From leaving out words to using the wrong “there,” this is the draft where you put on your editor’s hat, zero in, and cut out all of the crap. Don’t worry if you don’t fancy yourself an editor — ideally you’ll have others lined up who are able to proudly include this title in their LinkedIn profiles. Just give this draft enough love to convince an editor that you actually tried in the first place.
Draft 3: Be sincere
I’ll be honest with you — in my humble opinion, this is by far the hardest draft. It’s not because I think most writers are liars (even though plenty of us are), it’s because we’re human. We’re conditioned to doctor everything up and only present the best versions of ourselves. Well, I have a newsflash for you: no one wants to hear from our best version. In fact, quite the opposite. They want to know what the ugly, imperfect, honest version thinks. After all, that’s probably why they’re reading your writing in the first place. Like all of us, your readers are looking for something — information, advice, connection, or simply a reason to laugh (or cry), and if you tell the truth, they might even find what they’re looking for from you.
Draft 4: Be human
Speaking of being human, this might seem like a silly draft to include, but if you’re like me, there’s a good chance your first draft reads like it was printed out by a malfunctioning robot writing a research paper. Use this draft to simplify everything from your big idea to individual words. Believe me, no one cares if you have a big, fancy vocabulary. You could actually end up turning off your readers and coming across as a snob. Here’s a helpful hint: read your writing out loud and it will be painfully obvious whenever you write something that doesn’t sound like you. Does the word, “incredulous” sound weird and icky in your mouth? Take that sucker out and use something simpler like, “skeptical.”
Draft 5: Be funny
Okay, so this is way easier said than done, but one of the easiest ways to appear human is to make someone laugh. Try using this last draft to lighten things up and inject a little of your own humor. I know, I know. You’re a writer, not a comedian and you want your readers to take you seriously as a thought leader (Ugh, even typing that made me shudder a little). The thing is, it’s still 100% possible to take your work seriously while delivering it in a way that is lighthearted and fun. Besides, a little self-deprecating humor never hurt anyone! (My eighth grade self is giving me a big middle finger).
And there you have it. Not the most earth-shattering stuff, but like anything, we all tend to overcomplicate it. Use this list as a starting point and make it your own. If you do, I’d love to hear how you change it!