Get the First Draft Down (Advice for Writers)

This week my fingertips are tapping feverishly on book #4, the book on technology. My aim is to produce a tightly written book of 35k-words, and this week I need to add 15k on to the 10k already done in order to send out the book as two-thirds of a completed first draft for macro conceptual critique and editing. This week is on pace so far (by grace).

Chasing around a bookload of thoughts and capturing them and putting them on paper in a somewhat orderly manner is the hardest and least fun and most mind-intensive step in the book writing process for me, but it’s also a process I must endure and push through in order to free up the mental reserves I need to revise and tighten and clarify later on (the fun part!).

Here’s how Steven Pinker explained the process in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014):

I am told there are writers who can tap out a coherent essay in a single pass, at most checking for typos and touching up the punctuation before sending it off for publication. You are probably not one of them. Most writers polish draft after draft. I rework every sentence a few times before going on to the next, and revise the whole chapter two or three times before I show it to anyone. Then, with feedback in hand, I revise each chapter twice more before circling back and giving the entire book at least two complete passes of polishing. Only then does it go to the copy editor who starts another couple of rounds of tweaking.

Too many things have to go right in a passage of writing for most mortals to get them all the first time. It’s hard enough to formulate a thought that is interesting and true. Only after laying a semblance of it on the page can a writer free up the cognitive resources needed to make the sentence grammatical, graceful, and, most important, transparent to the reader. The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by a reader. The advice in this and other stylebooks is not so much on how to write as on how to revise.

In other words, get the first draft down on paper asap.

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