Shitty First Drafts Are the Key to Building a Blogging Empire
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Most aspiring writers have heard of the shitty draft rule, but few of them practice it.
Hell, few writers practice at all.
This saddens me because I know how much potential they have. If they’d just get the words onto the page and into the world, they’d start building a catalog that could change their life.
I love when students of my blogging course have that epiphany.
I tell them what do to, and they avoid doing it, but eventually, they pull the trigger. Views start to roll in, their audience grows, and most importantly, they got the words out there.
Funny what happens when you do the work
You can do this. I believe in you. But you have to see what I see in you to succeed.
Let’s break down the shitty draft rule in-depth so you know exactly what to do.
How to Make Your Shitty First Draft A Bit Less Shitty
If you do certain things upfront, writing and editing your draft becomes much easier. Most new writers just open up a blank document and wonder what to write about. This is the absolute worst way to go about writing.
Instead, you should do so much work upfront that writing the draft is as simple as inserting the words into their proper spot. You can achieve this ‘paint by numbers’ effect with this simple three-step process.
This is a process I’ve mentioned 10,000 times, but I’ll mention it again because it’s important:
- Write 10 headline ideas per day: Good headlines show the benefits of the article and frame the piece before you write it. A well-constructed headline guides the writing. Practicing headlines allows you to cherry-pick the best ideas.
- Mind-map the piece: After you’ve chosen a headline from your ‘headline bank,’ which is a document you use to store all your good headlines from the 10 ideas technique, create a mindmap which is just scribbling out the idea, main points, and sub-points to the main points on a piece of paper.
- Create a formal outline: If you have a document that lists out the three main points you’re going to cover, plus 3 bullet points supporting the main points, and a sentence describing the theme or premise of the piece, it’s hard to fail
Most of the time, I don’t even need to refer to the outline when I write the shitty first draft because the act of coming up with the outline solidifies the information in my mind.
You can refer to the outline while you write, but it’s the only thing you’re allowed to do aside from the writing itself during the shitty first draft process.
Let me explain…
This is Why Your Articles Take Way Too Long to Write
From start to finish, I can write a 2,500-3,000 word blog post in about two hours.
This includes editing. I’m a naturally fast writer and I have years of practice under my belt, so I can spit out polished prose, but these tips I’m about to share dramatically increased my speed.
Your drafts take too long to write because you focus on other tasks besides writing. You stop in the middle to look up a quote, statistic, or anecdote. There are other tabs open on your computer.
You focus on what others are going to think about your piece before you even write it, which makes you doubt yourself. Instead, follow this process.
- Move your fingers: Start typing. The act of moving your fingers creates momentum. Even if you have to start your shitty first draft by typing “I don’t know what to write,” then just do that. Eventually, you’ll hit a groove.
- Use placeholders: Most of the time, I just write ‘add sub-heading here’ so I can come back during the editing phase to come up with a clever title for them instead of wracking my brain during the draft process. If I have a bullet point list and I’m stuck on creating the third bullet, I add a placeholder. If I need to add a quote, stat, or anecdote, I use a placeholder
- Follow the outline and finish the piece: You have an outline, so you know what you’re supposed to say, so, just, freakin’ say it. Your only goal is to get the draft done. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be good. It’s not even supposed to be good. Just do it.
Pro tip: Make sure to save your article a few times during the draft process to avoid losing your work by accident. I’ve lost 3,000-word pieces before and that shit hurts.
That’s the shitty first draft process in a nutshell. After that, you tinker with and worry about the quality of your article. If you commit fully to writing during the draft process, you’ll get better at editing too because your mind will only focus on one thing at a time.
The Mindset You Need to Successfully Write a Bunch of Shitty First Drafts
When I read pieces I’ve read years ago, I cringe. I can’t even bring myself to read my first book these days because it’s so bad compared to my writing ability now.
But I’m thankful for those pieces and that book because they created stepping stones to better writing. Thankfully, I was naive at the beginning of my writing career.
I thought my writing was good enough even though it wasn’t. I wasn’t afraid to hit publish because I thought people would like to hear what I have to say.
If you struggle with some of the mindset issues I’m going to talk about, I have some remedies.
Embrace the Suck
If you’re new at writing, your writing is supposed to suck. No one is supposed to read it because it sucks. You don’t have an audience or money from your writing because your writing sucks.
And that’s perfectly ok.
Just take Seth Godin’s advice:
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply a fear of bad writing. Do enough bad writing and some good writing is bound to show up.
And along the way, you will clarify your thinking and strengthen your point of view.
But it begins by simply writing something.
Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to be the next great writer and just write, dude.
“But What If No One Cares What I Have to Say?” or “I’m Not an Expert!”
A student of mine has been a divorce lawyer for decades. She doubts her credibility as a writer because she hasn’t written about relationships yet.
Here’s what I asked her:
“You’ve been a divorce lawyer for decades. Do you know the common patterns that lead to divorce?”
“Well, yes,” she said.
Good writing, especially in the advice category, solves a major pain point.
“Do you think people are interested in hearing how to avoid losing the person they chose to spend the rest of their life with?”
The gears in her head started turning…
She knew what I knew that she knew. She has the goods. You have the goods. You don’t need credentials. You just need more experience than the person you’re talking to. That’s it. Even if you’re just a step or two ahead.
Every human has valuable life experiences and lessons to share, including you.
How to Overcome Writer’s Block
“Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” – Jerry Seinfeld
If you practiced the tips I give in this post, you wouldn’t get writer’s block. Writer’s block only happens when you treat writing like a fun, nice to have, little hobby instead of treating it with the same respect you would a job.
The writers who actually listen to me and just follow the necessary steps do just fine. It’s the writers who don’t have the success they want, yet still, try to do things their own way, who fail.
Writer’s block comes from not being prepared, not doing the work, and not taking your craft seriously, which leads to my final point.
This Process Will End Your Publishing Problems Forever
The key to success in writing is the key to success in pretty much every area of life. If you dedicate daily time to getting better at writing, you’ll get better at writing.
It’s as simple as setting a non-negotiable time block each day to do one of three things:
- Publish/format posts
If you did that five days per week, you’d start building a catalog of posts that could change your life. You could even take weekends off and still be successful.
I tell new writers that writing 2-to 4 posts per week is the sweet spot to do well on platforms like Medium. You don’t have to publish daily, or twice daily, as some writing gurus suggest. A gradual, persistent, and moderate effort is all you need.
Work at the same time, for the same duration, even in the same location, every single day. I’ve followed this process daily for seven years. I journal 10 ideas, pick one from my headline bank, mind-map, outline, and then write the shitty first draft.
I woke up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in time to write before work and I gradually built my writing career on the side of my full-time job.
If you followed this process in a sincere way, you’d be successful, and you know it.
So why not just do it?
Imagine your life a year from now.
You’ve followed the 2-4 posts strategy and have 104 to 208 posts published.
You have a few thousand followers on Medium and you’re making a few thousand bucks. Email subscribers are rolling in, people are commenting saying how much they love your work, and your name gets mentioned on lists of top writers on Twitter.
You’re literally getting paid to learn how to write better.
Most important though…
More important than the money, the recognition, the fans…
You finally got the words out there that you’ve probably been meaning to share for years. Because you’ve written so much, you can look in the mirror and call yourself a writer with conviction, because you write.
I know that’s what you want. And the shitty first draft rule will get you there.
But only if you do it.