Don’t worry if your first draft sucks
You’d think after all the texting, tweeting and TikTok-ing we do in our limited attention-span society, we’d be better at getting straight to the point. But we don’t.
We waffle, we hedge, we tiptoe around the edges in our conversations and Zoom calls. It’s even worse in our writing. Sometimes you have to tell your team about budget cutbacks or give bad news to a high-maintenance client or tell the board why their big audacious goal for the year is not all that original–and unlikely to work. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there to try to win the business. Sometimes we just need to tell our spouses we’re running late (again).
So why don’t we just come out and say it?
Because in the back of our minds, we’re afraid of being rejected, mocked, marginalized, ignored or not taken seriously. So, we hem and haw for a few sentences sprinkling in low ROI words such as:
- As a matter of fact
- At all times
- Studies show
And like, um, you know, we get too far out in front of our skis. So, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, when you’re thinking outside the box and doing a deep dive into the issues, it is what it is. But it’s not. You haven’t said anything yet!
My high school English teacher, Mr. Hallowell, used to scribble in all caps: “STOP CLEARING YOUR THROAT!” when grading our papers. Journalistic throat-clearing is like sharing a cross-country flight with a seatmate who is constantly hacking, sniffling and harrumphing. Pretty annoying, right?
More than once I saw Mr. Hallowell tear up a student’s paper BEFORE he even started reading it. Why? “I could tell by the look in your eyes, it wasn’t your best work,” he’d tell the devastated student (disclosure: sometimes it was me). “So, I’m not going to read it, until it’s ready. Do it again!”
Mr. Hallowell’s message: Just get to the point! State your case and then make corrections if needed. Silicon Valley tech companies do this all the time with new products. Why can’t you? You might get rejected. So, what. At least you know where you stand with the reader and where you need to improve your message or your offering.
Another reason high-striving professionals have trouble getting started is because they’re perfectionists. They’re constantly burnishing their personal brands. They want everything picture perfect before they put it out there. Never a hair (or a comma) out of place. But we’re talking about a short article, blog post or client memo, here. You’re not submitting your work for a Pulitzer Prize.
As Voltaire liked to say: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Just get to the point and move on with your day. There will be plenty of time for revising later (see below).
Here are some other techniques our clients have found helpful for eliminating brain fog and throat clearing in their communications:
1. Write quickly. Just let it flow. Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. Let it rip! Don’t be a writer—be a storyteller—then revise, revise and revise. Blogger Hannah Heath explains why you should let your first draft suck and Vaibhav Vardhan explains why your first draft is supposed to suck
2. Read your work out loud or better yet, dictate it into your smartphone voice recorder and play it back. You may not like what you sound like, but this technique will prevent from straying too far from your point and from falling into the run-on-sentence rabbit hole.
3. Walk away for at least an hour. What looked so brilliant before you took your break suddenly stinks like a garbage dump on a hot summer day when you get back to your desk. Don’t despair, that’s what first drafts are supposed to do anyway
4. Start with the end in mind. Write the conclusion first, then three or four summary bullet points (i.e., Key Takeaways). What do you really want readers to take away from your article or post? Then play around with the headline (or the cover of your book). You have no choice but to be concise and on point.
5. Give it the relevance check. We all have a mental picture of our core audience when we write. We know who our biggest fans (and critics) are. Imagine them looking over your shoulder before you hit the post, send or publish button. What would their reaction be? If it stings, give your piece another tune-up. There’s no charge for parts, just for the labor.
E.B. White said, “writing is hard work and bad for the health.” Perhaps it is, but it’s an essential part of communicating with your clients, prospects, employees and stakeholders. Set a deadline. Go with your best effort, and then revise, revise and revise even after it’s been published. That’s one thing that’s great about publishing in today’s electronic age. It’s never been easier to fix things and make them better in v2.0 (or v3.0).
What’s your take? I’d like to hear from you.
#writingbestpractices, #effectivecommunication, #, #credibilitymarketing, #thoughtleadership