September 21, 2022 3:07 pm


Writing your messy draft, aka first draft, is by far the most time consuming part of the process. The main challenges you'll face at this stage are in your mind. This post will help you develop the mindset you need to write a successfully messy first draft.

We'll start by putting the time commitment in perspective. I know 40 hours is a lot of time to commit to one thing, but there's no reason for it to feel overwhelming. Then we'll work on letting go of your inner perfectionist and embracing the idea of the messy draft. 

Finding time for your messy draft

We don't all work the same way. Some of you want a steady approach to writing your first draft that fits comfortably into your usual routine. Others want it done yesterday, and those writers are willing to upend their routine for a short time to make it happen. Here's what the two approaches look like in practice:

Steady progress

Instead of asking yourself where you're going to find 40 hours, try asking if you can find about an hour most days over 8 weeks. Or, can you find about 30 minutes twice a day, most days over 8 weeks? Or can you find 15 minutes 3 to 4 times a day, most days over 8 weeks? Those asks don't sound so hard, do they?

Most of us can find little bits of time for things that matter, especially if we know that we only have to do it for the short term. This is the approach I teach in my group course, There's a Book in Every Expert. Click the button below to learn more about it.

Quick results

If you prefer to immerse yourself in a new project and get it done quickly, the steady approach I outlined above probably makes you uncomfortable. No worries - I know one-size-fits all approaches don't work.

You can break up the 40 hours you'll need to write your messy draft any way that works for you: 4 hours per day for 10 days, 8 hours per day for 5 days, ...

Managing longer sessions is as much skill as personality trait. 

Before you embark on trying to work this way, you'll need to have your internal editor (your inner perfectionist) well under control because getting a draft done in 40 hours requires you to write quickly and messily the whole time.

You also need to know that you're capable of staying focused on this kind of work for long stretches of time without getting bored. 

If you're not sure you have the skill to write this way on your own, check out my 3-day intensives. In them, I spend 3 days helping you get your book started. At the end, you'll have about half of it written and a clear plan for finishing the rest. I have options for 1:1 and small groups - click the buttons below to learn more:

Make a mess of your first draft

Your first draft's only job is to be done! Taking the time to write a 'good' or 'clean' first draft is a waste of time.

I often compare the writing process to clearing out your wardrobe. Your first draft is like the first stage of a clear out when you chuck all of your clothes onto your bed.

At that stage, you're just getting all of your clothes out so you can see what you have. It comes before the stage when you sort through the clothes and decide what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. You wouldn't pause at this stage to tailor a jacket you haven't worn in years to fit your body today, would you? Almost certainly not! Imagine how long a clear out would take if you took the time to tailor garments you weren't even sure you wanted to keep!

The same applies to writing - there's no point in editing sentences you're not sure you're going to keep.

If your internal editor (inner perfectionist) is under control, you can simply remind her that this is a messy draft and she needs to keep quiet while you write it. Do you need some help keeping her quiet? Read on.

One way to convince your internal editor that it's safe for you to write a messy draft is to write it in a medium that she knows won't be published - like in crayon on unlined paper. 

No, I'm not suggesting you write your whole draft in crayon (unless you really want to, of course). Just use that technique long enough to get your initial ideas out and show your internal editor that it's safe to make a mess. I explain this in more detail in a guest post I wrote for Little Miss Purple called 'Embrace the Mess' and in chapter 9 of my first book, There's a Book in Every Expert (that's you!). Click the button below to get your copy:

What's next?

The next step is to clean up your draft and enlist some help with making it the best it can be. I discuss how to do this in "Clean up your text: Revision, beta readers, editor". If you'd like an overview of the whole book-writing process, read "How long does it take to write a book?"

About the Author

I help entrepreneurs get their books out of their heads and into print!

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