When it comes to procrastination, writers tend to be better at it than most.
Some people call it “writer’s block.” Others are easily distracted. The overarching theme is that most writers – even the great ones – tend to put off the actual “writing” part of their day for as long as possible. But the important thing to understand is that this all has less to do with our abilities, our skill level or even our work ethic. Instead, it’s more about that proverbial dragon that we’re chasing than most people probably realize.
Whenever someone sits down to write something, they always strive for the type of excellent quality that only they can provide. Nobody wakes up in the morning, pours themselves a cup of coffee and says “boy, I can’t wait to write something abysmal today.”
While this lofty goal is a noble one, it’s also the biggest obstacle for many writers to overcome. Because the truth is, the quality of your work will never be as good as it is in your head…
… so you allow it to remain there for as long as possible.
In the list of reasons that people give themselves for why they’re not working, there are a few that usually crop up time and again. Some people say they struggle with a lack of inspiration – “the ideas just aren’t coming to me.” Especially in technical writing, this usually isn’t the case. A client probably has very, very specific ideas on what you’re supposed to be doing – that’s as good a starting point as any. Others ask questions like “how can I be expected to work inside on such a bright sunny day?!”
The truth is, whether you’re writing an article or a blog post or a novel, the reason why you’re having trouble bringing something out of your head and into reality is because right now, it’s still in its purest form. That perfect piece of content exists exclusively in your brain… which means that you haven’t screwed it up yet.
But “screwing it up” isn’t something you should fear at all. It’s something you should embrace. Because so long as something exists, even if it’s objectively the worst thing you’ve ever written, it can be fixed. It can’t be fixed if you haven’t put pen to paper quite yet.
The Art of the Vomit Draft
In screenwriting, there’s a technique called the “Vomit Draft” that you’ll often hear a lot of filmmakers talk about. In essence, it’s the idea that you need to get your first draft finished as quickly as humanly possible because once you do, you can start on your second draft.
When written this fast, the first draft will usually be terrible. It’ll go on for 40 pages too long. It’ll have characters that contribute nothing. Scenes that go nowhere. In the end, the product of your hard work will be something that exactly zero people – yourself included – are satisfied with.
But that’s where the magic happens.
Because if you know something is bad, you know what the major problems are. Once you know that, you know what you have to fix.
The idea of a “Vomit Draft” is one that you could apply to nearly any form of writing you’ll ever do. It’s also true of any skill level you currently see yourself at. Even the best writers out there – the ones with shelves filled with awards with names you know by heart – are rarely capable of creating something perfect on the first try.
Which, of course, is the secret – they don’t try.
They know the first draft of something is going to be terrible. They know that their ideas probably aren’t as good as they think they are. They know this is going to be a rough road to travel.
So at that point, the goal becomes “just get it done.” Make it tangible. If it’s tangible, you can make it better. You can improve on it. You can identify the flaws and, with the benefit of hindsight, address them one by one until they’re no longer a factor.
But if you allow the idea of “great writing” to remain a figment of your imagination, it will probably stay that way.
Stephen L earned his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production at the University Of Toledo College Of Performing Arts in Toledo, Ohio. In addition, he also worked for a big box electronic retailer for three years specializing in high definition audio and video equipment as well as computers and software. He has created almost ten thousand pieces of SEO-driven content for various online clients on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, electronics, computer operating systems and general technology.