the magic of a shitty first draft

In creativity, motivation, productivity, stories by Jay Clouse

If you’re like me, a blank page is probably kind of scary. I write just about every day — and it’s still the bane of my existence.

When I was writing scripts for my Linkedin Learning course, it nearly killed me. I learned a lot about my own writing process and how to get through a ton of content creation in a short amount of time.

First and foremost, I needed deadlines. And not just deadlines with myself, but accountable to someone else. My editor and I setup a weekly call to check in on a handful of scripts that we had agreed to complete that week.

This was the single biggest motivating factor in getting them done — I was not going to fail an expectation from my editor. After all, I learned my respect for deadlines from my editors in my college journalism program!

But as motivated and sure as I was that I’d get those scripts done by our call, I still met every blank page with some level of anxiety from The Resistance.

What I found to be most effective method for getting through it was a shitty first draft. (A friend of mine told me about her college professor calling them “shitty first drafts” and I’m stealing the phrase — sorry, Julie).

I mean my first drafts were bad. The calls were on Friday afternoon, so naturally I did all my writing the Thursday evening before. And generally I would be up until the wee hours of the morning churning out 2000-2500 words.

I’d spill it all out on the page, trying to get into “flow,” and not even do a proofreading pass. There was no time, and I thought they were probably pretty good — I was rolling!

I just had to get the shitty first drafts out ASAP.

The next morning I’d wake up, proofread each draft, and shudder at how broken it was. Missing words, phrases I didn’t even understand…

But, it’s a lot easier for me to edit than to write a first draft, and in just another hour or two they’d be shiny and ready for my editor’s review.

The same is true for this very email, the website mockups I’m working on, or the audio intro for my podcast. The hard part is going from 0 to 1. Improving the “1” is the easy part.


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