Hacking Your First Draft

Not many writers enjoy writing the first draft of any assignment. It can be very difficult to get started. So we tend to procrastinate.

But procrastination leads to anxiety. And that just makes everything worse.

For a number of years, I’ve used a little hack to get around this resistance. This hack might not be new to you, or you may already have a similar process in place. But I’m going to share my system here in case you find it useful.

Build the Tension

The first thing I do—long before starting my first draft—is to build as much tension as I can.

By “tension,” I mean an internal tension to start writing. I want to create an uneasy feeling that makes me desperate to put pen to paper. And I do that by spending a good amount of time researching and organizing my background materials.

I want to reach the point where I have so much stuff—and so many ideas—I’m just itching to lay them out on paper.

Draft a Mind Map

When I can’t resist that tension anymore, I start mind-mapping to brainstorm and organize my ideas visually.

I find this works much better than going straight to an outline. As I put everything into my mind map, a compelling narrative will start to form in my head, which prompts that internal tension to grow once again.

That’s what I’m looking for. I want to feel like, if I don’t get started, I’m going to lose my ideas. At that point, I’m ready and eager to go.

Create a “Talk Through” Outline

From there, I don’t go straight to writing a draft. Rather, I create what I call a “talk through” outline.

It’s not technically an outline. Rather it’s just a series of statements and bullet points. I’m essentially translating my mind map into ideas on the page, organized logically.

I use the “talk through” outline because I find the moment I tell myself I’m writing a first draft, I tense up and lose my flow of ideas. So I trick myself into thinking that I’m not writing the first draft yet.

All I’m doing is getting bullet points and phrases onto a Word document. The draft will come later (or so I tell myself).

Trick Yourself into Writing

After about five minutes of sketching out rough bullet points, I’ll start writing some prose. (Yay!)

Not because I’ve started the first draft (goodness, no!), but because I start feeling like I have to put a bit more meat behind those bullet points. Otherwise, I won’t recognize my intention with that point later, when I do get to the first draft stage.

And voilà! Within minutes, I’m writing what is, for all intents and purposes, a first draft.

Hack Your Way to a First Draft

This little process has rarely failed me. And it’s especially helpful when I just don’t feel like writing but have a looming deadline that gives me little choice.

If you don’t have a similar hack, give this one a try. I think you’ll be surprised at how effective it is.



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