Writing a Rough Draft: Make it Fast, Make it Easy

Following the 5 step writing process makes writing a rough draft easier, but getting your thoughts on the page is still a challenge. Your main goal in this step is to turn the ideas from your outline into sentences and arrange them into a first draft. But your secondary goal is to make the drafting process as smooth and easy as possible so you won’t resist doing it. Use the tips below to get through writing a rough draft with less stress and more confidence.

What is a first draft?

It’s important to understand the definition of a first draft: your first attempt at putting your thoughts into final form. You aren’t creating the final piece of writing in this step. Think about painting a wall. You don’t put on one coat of paint and call it done. Instead, you start with a coat or two of primer. Then you put on a couple coats of the final color. You certainly wouldn’t put on the primer and the final color at the same time. That would defeat the purpose.

Writing a rough draft is very similar. Your first draft is like the first coat of paint. You have to get that down before you can add the subsequent coats in revision.

Sometimes, though not always, your rough draft will be pretty bad. It won’t sound right; it will have grammar mistakes; some parts won’t make any sense and others will be off-topic. It’s important to realize that that’s okay. You can fix all these problems in revision. The important thing in writing a rough draft is just to get the ideas down as best you can. Here are some ways to do that.

Tips for Writing Your First Draft

- Use a warm-up routine before you write. Psychologists advise people who have trouble falling asleep to follow the same routine every night before bed. Doing the same actions in the same order sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep. The same idea works for writing. When you’re ready to work on a writing project, have a little routine you go through first. This might include making a cup of tea, starting up the computer, clearing space on your desk. You can choose any series of steps that works for you. Doing this each time you sit down to write will soon train your mind to focus on your writing when you need it to.

- Start by reading the previous steps. The advantage to following the 5 step writing process is that you almost always have the previous steps to work from in moving forward. So one way to get started writing a rough draft is to lay out all the steps you’ve done so far: your prewriting, thesis, and outline. Looking over these steps will help you re-connect with what you mean to say, what got you interested in this writing project in the first place. Re-igniting your enthusiasm for the topic can propel you into writing the draft.

- Give yourself permission to write badly. Drafting is not the time for perfectionism. If you’re too eager to write well, you may pressure yourself into not writing at all. It’s okay for your first draft to be bad. My first published feature article started out as a draft that sounded like it had been written by a fourth grader, and not a very smart one, either. If you just persevere through those first clunky sentences and awkward paragraphs, you’ll probably find that the writing starts to get smoother as you loosen up. And if not, that’s fine too. Because there’s one major rule in drafting: done is better than perfect.

- Start anywhere you want. When you’re writing from an outline, you don’t need to start drafting at the beginning of a piece. If the first paragraph is hard to write, start somewhere else. You can choose to start with sections of the draft that you’re most interested in to get the writing process flowing, or you can start with sections you find challenging to get those out of the way. Writing small sections, one at a time, will make getting through your draft easier. Later, when you put the pieces together, you can add appropriate transitions to make sure the writing flows.

- Keep moving forward. In the drafting stage, it usually isn’t a good idea to stop and go back over what you’ve written. Remember, you’re writing a rough draft. It’s supposed to have imperfections. Some writers feel they can’t move on to the next sentence till they get the current one right. But if you work this way, you risk never getting to that next sentence; you certainly won’t get there quickly. And all that time could be wasted in the end if you find in revision that the sentence you slaved over so long needs to be cut from the piece anyway. So here’s my advice: spend at least 90% of your drafting time moving forward. Save the revising for the step where it belongs.

- Leave blanks when necessary. Don’t stress over facts you don’t have, words you can’t think of, or ideas you can’t seem to express just right. If you come to a place in the draft where you don’t have what you need, put in a place holder and move on. For example, you can just write, “Price information belongs here,” or “Need statistics.” You might want to highlight these or type them in color so you don’t miss them in revision.

Writing s rough draft doesn't have to be a stressful experience. Just focus on getting the ideas on paper. If you keep in mind that you can, and will, go back and make the paper better in revision, getting though that first draft becomes a lot easier.

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