3 Reasons Writing A Rough Draft Is The First Step

by Anne Wayman

writing a rough draftI’m always telling new freelance writers that they have to sit down and actually put words on paper or on their screen if they expect to get good enough to get paid. Which is true.

Of course, I’m talking about getting a rough draft of the article or blog post or sales letter or web copy done.

Drafts are the first step in a writing project and it’s not by accident they are called rough drafts. And they are likely to be very rough – in fact, that’s the point.

Here are the reasons writing a rough draft works:

  1. Let’s you dump your ideas about your topic on paper (or on screen) without the “help” of your internal editor.

  2. Gets you actually writing rather than planning to write or wishing you had.
  3. Done regularly will help you form the discipline of writing.

Writing a rough draft gets you started

When you sit down and just write about something all sorts of things tend to appear on the paper or screen. Exactly how you begin is really up to you. Generally I start with the first idea in my head, often the idea that sparked the writing in the first place.

For example, the idea for this post appeared in my mind while I was standing in line at the grocery store. I found myself wondering just how freelance writers understood my instruction to “write.” Did they see it as a command, or a suggestion or did they realize I was actually sharing how I get writing done? As I actually began to draft this post – yes, I did get the groceries put away – I realized that what I really wanted to say is that the only way my ideas become clear is when I start to write them down. It’s in the writing that I sort out my message as it were. My own experience has shown me that we simply must begin somewhere, anywhere, with our writing. Without that beginning, without those words appearing on screen, writing just doesn’t happen.

Drafting is a way to get all the ideas on the paper – the good, the bad, and everything in between. Writing a rough draft is usually done pretty quickly, although when you’re doing a draft of a big project, like a book, it will be done in multiple, many multiple shortish sessions.

Rough drafting is real writing

Writing a rough draft means you are actually writing. Drafting is a perfect way to get started instead of just thinking about it, or planning to do it.

Oh sure, you’ve got to think about what you’re going to write and working on a schedule so you have time to write are good things, as long as they don’t get in the way of of actually putting putting words on paper.

Drafting eliminates the unreachable goal of perfection

When you know those words you’re putting on paper are part of a rough draft you’re not going to be trapped by some myth of perfection. Instead, you can just keep writing until you’ve got a complete draft reading for editing. Or, if it’s a long work, you can do the same with each section or chapter. When rough drafting, perfection, whatever that might mean to you, just isn’t an issue. Many find that freeing.

Writing a rough draft regularly builds discipline

One way to look at the discipline of writing is as a habit. I know that I’m going to write every weekday morning. That knowledge helps my mind be ready to write. It’s much easier if I know every piece of writing I start is  “only” a rough draft.

Writing regularly, whatever your writing schedule is is the only way to get good enough to get paid. Or to get your book done or get your blog established or enough articles written and sold to make a living.

How do you use rough drafts?




Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kira December 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Did y’all notice the 2 is’s back to back in the last reason? Or is it just me?!?
Kira recently posted..Freelance Writers Need to Sharpen IdeasMy Profile


Kira December 7, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Never mind I get it now


Anne Wayman December 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm



Kim Evazians May 27, 2012 at 9:02 am

Very timely, practical yet simple advice for writers. Also a great reminder of having the discipline of doing the basics.

Thanks for sharing!


Kelly June 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I realize this article was posted over a year ago, but I just wanted to say that I found it to be a useful reminder. I’m the type of writer who feels that she needs to get it right the first time; as such, I spend a great deal of time staring at a blank screen as I attempt to formulate my thoughts into written form, repeatedly cursing my “writer’s block.” I’ve noticed that, when I force myself to jot down all of those thoughts, however hideous and disjointed they may be, that I can write effortlessly and that going back and cleaning up my rough draft is much easier and less stressful than pressuring myself to be articulate the first time around.


Frank March 14, 2010 at 5:33 am

Huh. Well… while I agree to some degree about the draft idea, the following quote from your article stands out to me as an example of why editing is much more important than drafting…

“This post occurred because I suddenly wondered, what at the grocery store, if my instructions to “write” was understood as a command or suggestion to draft something onto paper as the only way I know to get started.”


Anne March 14, 2010 at 10:40 am

Good example that editing is important, Frank, but I would also point out that there would be nothing to edit if a draft isn’t written.


jorgekafkazar March 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

In the 1920’s, Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu* series, believed in getting as much on paper as quickly as possible. To do this, he used to dictate his narrative onto wax cylinders. The cylinders were sent by post to London, where a secretary turned them into typewritten manuscript for Rohmer’s revisions and edits. Rohmer got quite good at this. It’s a skill that many of us could use productively, especially with modern voice-to-text software, which would save the transcription step.

* My father often used to say: “Confucius say, ‘Many man smoke, but Few Man Chew’.” (Okay, it was a lot funnier in 1921.)
.-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.


Anne March 12, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Sax Rhomer – Fu Manchu – a bad pun all in one comment? What’s a blogger to do?

I loved that series… wonder if I still would… maybe.

and see… back then it was done by secretary… a women secretary I’ll bet.


jorgekafkazar March 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Our perceptions change over time, Anne. I loved A E VanVogt’s “World of ?” when I was in junior high school. I remembered it as intricate, exciting, magical. I reread it about 15 years ago and it had lost all the magic–or I had.

I don’t recall whether the person who transcribed Rohmer’s cylinders was male or female. Either is possible in that era. Here’s a quote from one of his books:

“The library door opening, and Adeler, his private secretary, appearing, with a book under his arm, Mr. Rohscheimer called to him…”

I was a department secretary for a while when I was in college. It was a wonderful experience. Wish I’d started when I was a freshman. A great place to study and I made Christmas money, too. Not a lot of work, either, except at exam time.
.-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.


Anne March 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

As I pushed the submit button I realized Sax may very well have had a male secretary, something I’ve always wanted.

Back then and before typing was considered too strenuous for women… hah!

I certainly hope my perceptions have changed over time… gadzooks… I was once a Republican! Still might try a peak at Rhomer again


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