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  • Writer's pictureTraci Browne

What Should You Expect In A First Draft

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Longform, this weekend and the guest on the episode was Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates is a writer, journalist, and educator. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He was also the recipient of a “Genius Grant“. So I was hanging on his every word.

Coates said, “The sooner you get roughs done, the better you’re off all the time. Because then you can sit back and say this is working, this is not working, can we change this. Don’t think you’re just going to spit it out and that’s going to work.”

His advice was to write the drafts quickly, so you have plenty of time to re-write. He explained that the first draft is extremely painful. Everything from that point forward is a lot better because it’s more fun to improve on things.

“Write, just that’s the worst part. Everything will be better after you write something. Just put something on the page,” said Coates.

I couldn’t agree more. When I’m working on any piece I typically will outline it if it’s of any length, and then start writing. There are times I’m even thinking to myself; this is awful. But I keep going because I just have to get the first draft down.

What To Expect From Your Writer When You Are Just Starting To Work Together

The first draft your new writer will send to you will be fairly rough. It will have a good structure, but the tone will most likely be a little flat. That’s because your writer doesn’t yet know exactly what tone you are looking for. They are trying to find your voice.

In fact, they are probably a bit embarrassed to send you that first draft. It’s nowhere near done. They are experimenting with voice. They don’t know your voice yet, so it’s probably going to sound flat. There’s no point in crafting a perfect sentence until you’ve nailed the voice.

When you give feedback, help them out by letting them know the impression you want to make. Do you want them to get in the readers face? Do you want them to keep things upbeat and positive? Do you want the text to be more fun, or do you want it to be serious.

I often ask clients, if this piece were written by a character in a movie or television show, who would that character be. I may not know my client very well, but it helps to know if I should be channeling Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood from House of Cards or Allison Janney’s C.J. Cregg in West Wing.

Don’t worry too much about the words. Once your writer has your voice, she will be able to tackle the wordsmithing in the second draft.

What To Expect From The Writer You’ve Worked With Before

Once your writer gets to know you and your brand, your first draft is going to be closer to complete. That meaning, the writer is going to spend a lot more time crafting sentences for the draft they send to you. It’s not going to be quite where they want it, but it will be close.

Some feedback I received recently from clients was along the lines of, “we want to write this in the first person because we want it to be more personal.” I’ve also gotten, “We need to go stronger on XYZ, that’s the most important point. You can cut back on sections 4 and 8.”

Writers are looking for you to be as specific as possible in your feedback. If you just tell them, “something’s not right,” or “it feels a bit flat” they don’t have much to go on.

Don’t be surprised if your writer gets some of the terminology wrong. Either fix it or explain it in a comment so they can learn. When you try to spare their feelings, you’re doing both of you a disservice.

And again, don’t worry too much about the words. Your writer will go over each and every word choice in excruciating detail in later versions, once all the points are covered to your liking That’s when we agonize over whether something it petite or dainty or perhaps just small.

If you happen to catch a their when it should be there, don’t freak out. Not as long as errors are very few and far between. Proofreading your own writing is almost impossible. Even books that go through several rounds of proofreading by professional editors end up with a mistake here and there. It doesn’t mean your writer is incompetent; it just means their eyes saw what was in their brain, not what was on the page.

There is a reason we include the number of rounds of revisions when we price a job. We don’t expect to nail it on the very first try, and neither should you. As long as it’s close, your writer is on track. Help them to the finish line by giving clear direction.

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