I’m about to give you advice that I should follow myself.
Repeat after me:
Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around.
Your writing doesn’t have to make any sense the first time around.
Your writing can be utter shit the first time around.
It was hard for me to even type those words without going over the grammar in my head a thousand times. I have a serious problem.
Throughout school, teachers always reminded us to complete the rough draft at least two weeks before an assignment was due, and I could never understand why. Weren’t first drafts basically final? They were for me.
Maybe it was because I procrastinated so much that my rough draft had to be my final draft, or maybe I was such a perfectionist that any writing I did had to be publishable from the start. Maybe I was just lazy….
I was definitely just lazy.
I’m happy to say that I’m in recovery (sort of).
From the simple act of writing every day, no matter how inspired I’ve felt, I’ve come to enjoy the rough draft and the fun it brings to the writing process. I choose to make my rough drafts hilarious, filled with expletives, excessive capitalization, and utter nonsense. They are an absolute delight to read out loud. Take, for instance, this example of a rough draft I wrote about Magritte’s C’est Ne Pas Une Pipe painting:
To my eyes, and probably the entire classes’, this is a painting of a pipe with the words “This is not a pipe” written below it in French. A smart-ass (yet valid) response to this discussion would be, “Well yes, that isn’t a pipe, that is a painting of a pipe.” What Saussure tells us is FUCK IF I KNOW I’LL LOOK IT UP LATER. Something something something relating the quote to the post blah blah blah. Although, as we have learned through New Criticism, intention is not meaning. MORE QUOTES SUPPORTING THAT THAT NOBODY ACTUALLY KNOWS OFF THE TOP OF THEIR HEADS WTF. In conclusion, SOMETHING REALLY PRETENTIOUS BECAUSE WHO EVEN IS GOING TO READ THIS.
It’s some of my finest work, right?
The final product ended up being a lot more polished and a lot more appropriate, so much so that I got an A and some really great feedback. To answer your question, I did put something über pretentious at the end, and my professor loved it. Ah, the life of an English major.
Rough drafts are a good thing. They are incredibly helpful for getting your ideas on the page and getting those creative juices flowing.
So, spit everything you have onto one document, and refine later. I mean it, your first draft doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. But if you need some encouragement, I’d suggest reading this article about how valuable a rough draft really is (because it is!).
If you need a bit more than encouragement, here are my top 10 tips on how to write a rough draft:
After you’ve brain dumped onto the page, your task is to make the words pretty. That sounds easy in theory, but it’s actually way harder than writing the rough draft. If you’re like me and you write nonsense as a placeholder for sentences, completing a second draft means actually committing to your content.
If you have trouble getting your rough draft down on paper, or if you are having trouble making your second draft pretty, check out this collection of inspiring quotes by famous authors. You’ll find that even they’ve struggled to write every once in a while. One of my favorites is:
One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off. —Lawrence Block
Write five pages today and tear them up tomorrow. It won’t hurt to try!
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and is currently working on her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for a literary journal, and an editor for an academic journal. In her free time, Erika enjoys writing short stories and screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.