The Ugly First Draft

I’m reading Everybody Writes by Ann Handley and she says it’s important to just go ahead and finish a TUFD, the ugly first draft:

Producing The Ugly First Draft is basically where you show up and throw up. Write badly. Write as if no one will ever read it. (Stephen King calls this “writing with the door closed.”)

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls it the down draft.

A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

The idea is the same, you want to get the ideas down on paper. The sentences won’t be beautiful. They won’t flow from one to another. Large portions will eventually be cut out.

But first, you’ve got to get it down.

Wait, sorry. In making this video I realized it’s her friend that calls it a down draft. Anne Lamott just calls them the same as the chapter name: Shitty First Drafts.

Tim Ferriss has a similar phrase: two crappy pages. In episode 84 with Chase Jarvis, he tells a story about IBM salespeople. They lowered their measure for success and it allowed each salesperson to get small wins to build momentum. Here’s Tim:

I was told at one point, “Your goal should be two crappy pages per day.” That’s it. If you’ve hit two crappy pages each day, even if you’ve never used them, you’ve succeeded for the day. Alleviating that performance anxiety about putting down ten pages of good material, which inevitably, I think, you’re going to fail two or three times each week, allows you to overshoot that goal. And continually succeed. And sort of build that confidence and momentum.

Tim applied that kind of thinking to his writing. He would aim for two crappy pages a day. That’s it.

In another episode, he interviews Mike Birbiglia, who has his own name for it:

I call it a “throw up pass” . I would go to coffee shops in the morning. My minimum is 3 hours. I stick myself in a coffee shop with no internet. No email, no anything. If it’s going well, 5 hours. If it’s not going well, I stop at 3 hours.

In response to that, Tim says he tossed a few drafts of the Four Hour Work-Week and then he re-wrote the first chapter in an email compose window. That worked.

Again, from Everybody Writes

By the way, this show-up-and-throw-up phase is often where many bloggers end the process. But you won’t do that—because you have respect both for your writing and for your reader.

But first, I need to find some readers of my own.