A shitty first draft

Turning bad writing into good writing

Jan 29, 2023 · 3 min read ·

When setting out to write something, there is one hurdle that seems extremely difficult for some to pass. That is to start writing.

A surprising number of people that I talk to, get stuck in the research phase leading up to the writing. I know exactly how this is because that used to be me. I could spend hours and hours watching YouTube, reading books and reading other blog posts, collecting stacks and stacks of notes, without actually putting the proverbial pen to paper.

The problem with that, apart from the fact that I wasn’t producing anything of value to anyone but me, is that no matter how much information I got I had no idea if other people would like the idea that I had.

Here is the secret, though. More information is not what is stopping you from producing your next piece of writing! Most likely, it’s the fear of the blank page. As long as the page is empty there is no chance of you having made a mistake anywhere.

But you see, writing is editing. You are almost guaranteed to not get it right the first time. So when starting, the goal shouldn’t be to get it right. The goal should be to get started.

This version is for your eyes only. This means that you also have the option of throwing it away and writing a shitty second draft. Heck, most of the time when I write a blog post I end up splitting my shitty first draft into three separate blog posts, of which one gets discarded the very next day.

And once you have something on paper, that shitty first draft, it’s much easier to see where you took a wrong turn, which pieces fit together, and which argument isn’t quite as strong as you thought it was.

Once in a blue moon though, you luck out and end up with something that has some semblance of a real piece of writing. Then you have the option to start tweaking it. To gather feedback, and let it take form.

And by the way, I call it a shitty first draft for a reason. Words matter, and using those words tends to take all the pressure of trying to produce something good out of it for me.

If you know me, you probably know that I like mental models. This post is not at all about writing. Blog posts are a useful framing for the technique, but I apply it in other areas of my life where I have trouble getting started.

Writing code is one such area. I find it much easier to think when I have some piece of code in front of me, even if I know I will throw it away. But it works equally well for a proposal for a board meeting or an email to a potential customer.

The point is that you need to take that first step of the journey to be able to reach your destination.

Or to quote the great Seth Godin:

“The way to write something good is to write something bad.”

Heads up!

After over a decade of building apps, teams and companies, I've now started coaching founders and CTOs through something that I call Nyblom-as-a-Service.

If this is something that would be interesting to you feel free to schedule a free discovery call to see if we are a good match for each other.

© 2023 Viktor Nyblom