The drafting process: How to master the art of a first draft

28 Mar 2022
Harry Jenner

The anxieties of staring at a blank page are very real for copywriters. Even I, as the writer of this blog, naturally began to fret a little about what I’d somehow start to type once I opened up my laptop. But thankfully, there’s now words on this page. I’ve completed what most copywriters would agree is the difficult part of any drafting process. So I’ve given myself a pat on the back! 

It’s time you gave yourself the same credit and leighway when writing a first draft too. I often remind myself that you need to go into the first drafting process with an open-mind and an open-heart. 

Whenever I’m lost for words staring at the blinking text cursor, I remember that there’s every opportunity to edit and improve upon my work at a later time. So I just keep typing. The very nature of the drafting process requires some errors and mistakes, however big or small. Therefore, I’ve made a personal vow to stop being so hard on myself. 

In a lot of ways, writing a first draft is an art form – but it’s an art form that should always reside far away from any pressures of perfection, precision or staying inside creative lines. A first draft should instead be looked at as your opportunity to be perfectly imperfect and a chance to release yourself from the restraints of getting it spot on for the first time. 

The truth is, rarely does any copywriter get their words exactly right every time. No doubt this very sentence will be edited or rewritten somehow before it’s published. 

So to lend a helping hand from one writer to another, I’ll outline the basis of how you should approach the first drafting process. It’s a generalised take on how any copywriter out there can master the art of a first draft – whether you’re in a dedicated in-house team, a freelance writer, or simply a curious amateur looking to understand more about the copywriting process. 

How To Write a Masterful First Draft

First Draft (noun) – A rough and ready draft that acts as the very first edition. 

There’s emphasis on the rough and ready part in that particular definition! Because mastering the art of the first draft is not about writing an immaculate masterpiece completely free from errors. A perfect first draft should solely satisfy you as its writer and the mastermind creator. You’ve mastered the art of the first draft when you’ve reached the wordcount feeling positive that you’ve done all that could to get there successfully. 

It’s virtually impossible to create a draft that requires no editing or rewriting whatsoever anyway. So you should be perfecting your drafting process rather than the outcome of the final draft itself. Mastering your personal copywriting skills like researching, planning, and time management is what helps achieve true first draft success – not just mastering the quality of the words and sentences you’ve written. Afterall, you’re rarely completely happy arriving at your destination if you haven’t truly enjoyed a smooth-riding journey getting there in the first place. 

So listen up drafters! Let’s begin exploring the super practical and super easy tips that help streamline your drafting process as much as possible.

Tip One: Research Till’ You’re an Expert!

The very best copywriting research is so much more than a quick Google search and few bookmarked tabs. Don’t get me wrong, Google is absolutely imperative to well-conducted research these days, but professional copywriting requires you to know how to use all of the available resources to your advantage. 

Depending on the complexity of your first draft, proper research should make you feel prepared and ready to map out the new information you’ve gathered. You basically need to research and research and research until your fingers ache or you feel like a shining expert in the subject at hand.

Knowledge is a marvelous thing when you know how to use it, so here’s a basic three step outline of what your first draft research plan should be: 

Step One: Make Your Initial Discoveries 

Start by brainstorming ideas on what you think is most important to the topic. This is your chance to discover significant facts and figures that help form your initial thoughts. See what’s already out there on competitor sites and decide what matters most to you as a writer with a valid voice.

But remember that researching for your first draft is not a cookie cutter process. This first step is your time to think outside the box and get the ball rolling on a writing plan that you love from the offset. 

Step Two: Explore Your Ideas Further

Next dive into some deep uninhibited research. Collect as many resources as you can that support the initial discoveries that you’ve made. Take this opportunity to set up the contextual basis of important statements or claims that you’ll make. 

It’s also vital that you consider the audience and company brand at this stage. Establish what the audience needs from the content you’re writing and ensure the tone of voice you plan to write in is suited to the brand values. Although it doesn’t have to be perfect, a first draft should be meaningful and engaging for its readers nonetheless.  

Here at writefully, we send all of our clients information-gathering forms and questionnaires during our onboarding process to help us understand what they need. Even the most experienced copywriters require as much resourceful information as possible.

Step Three: Outline a Personal Content Plan

Lastly you should organise all of the knowledge and resources you’ve gathered into a condensed plan. Develop a plan of how you’re going to put everything you’ve learned into action. Frame your thoughts into orderly notes that you can personally understand.

Remember to keep the content outline specific and concise because this is what will keep you on track when creating your first draft. Keep referring back to the plan as you write to help you stay focussed.

Tip Two: Set Achievable Timings!

It’s time to write now you have collected a tonne of valuable information that makes you feel like an expert. But don’t rush! Set yourself reachable time goals before you start turning your thoughts into words.

Every copywriter is different. And every written project they take on poses a different type of challenge. Some writers might type out their first draft in one single sitting, whereas others need intermittent days to really allow the creative juices to flow the way they want them to. The trick is to know where your personal strengths lie and think about your own creative needs when setting up your timing schedule. Writing your first draft won’t come easy if there’s a lingering, unrealistic ticking clock hanging over your head to dictate your work.

Having said that, copywriters more often than not have to work to tight, unmissable deadlines, whether it’s a strict time and date set by clients or simply an internal end-of-project timing that writers set for themselves. The reality is that deadlines are like the unavoidable angel and devil whispering in a copywriter’s ear as we type – good because they prevent us from procrastinating, and bad because they can be oh so pressurising. 

Alas! You do not need to be at a tumultuous war between right and wrong when striving to achieve your first draft deadline. Your time schedule can be streamlined if you remember these four important tricks:

Trick One: Don’t Be In Denial

Don’t be in denial about the looming deadline. Accept your fate and embrace the fact that your time schedule is unavoidable. Remain optimistic that the end is nigh! Keep the deadline at the forefront of your mind and use it as motivation to finish your first draft quicker.

Trick Two: Incorporate Smaller Deadlines

Incorporate smaller, more manageable deadlines instead of working towards one huge deadline that threateningly stares you in the face. Your timings will seem much more feasible if you pace yourself.  Break up the first draft plan into reasonable sections you can realistically achieve without unnecessary stress. These smaller deadlines can be weeks, days, or even hours away depending on the size of the project at hand. 

Trick Three: Remember The Consequences 

Remember that there may be consequences if you don’t finish your deadline on time. Remind yourself that you cannot afford to let your client down if you’ve already made promises (but don’t fret too much – simply remember that you have to keep going no matter what). 

Trick Four: Reward Your Successes

Remaining positive is easier said than done. That’s why it’s super important to reward your successes during your first drafting process. Take a well-needed break and let off some steam once you’ve reached your smaller goals. Do whatever it is that helps ease your creative mind before getting back to it. Just remember to limit your time breaks. There should be no hindering procrastination!

Tip Three: Just Keep Writing!

Copywriters will find anything to procrastinate with – an early lunch, a quick email-check, or that ‘must-do’ admin we label as super urgent when really it’s not at all. However, there’s one clear reason why procrastination is such a hard obstacle to tackle as a copywriter, and that’s the dreaded writer’s block. 

First drafts don’t just write themselves! No matter how many ideas whizz through your mind or how many starting sentences seem perfect to begin with, sometimes the first draft simply won’t come to fruition.

The reality is, you cannot wave a magic wand to make the right kind of words appear on your screen. Copywriters can fuss over their first draft for hours upon hours attempting to perfect a ‘masterpiece’ that simply isn’t destined to be perfect. First drafts aren’t designed to be bang on the money the first time around anyway. Your job as a writer will become far more straightforward when you accept your flaws and complete a drafting process that embraces some mistakes. 

However, trying not to be perfect is harder than it seems. Your new strength as a writer should now lie with learning how to ‘just keep writing’ through the stumbling blocks. There’s something rather satisfying about a draft that’s simply “good enough”. So, here’s four easy tricks to make a first drafting process quick and painless:

Trick One: Embrace Your Mistakes 

Break away from the crippling habits of striving for perfection. Write a first draft that pours out of you with unrestrained confidence rather than trickles out with tip-toeing hesitations. Stop stalling on your words and let them come naturally. Your draft will come to light easier if you have the freedom to embrace your mistakes. It’s perfectly fine for a first draft to be a little sketchy and rough around the edges. The smoothing over comes later!

Trick Two: Get Help From a Colleague

Copywriting can be a lonely sport when you feel like you’ve only got yourself to rely on. But taking on a writing project independently doesn’t have to be so daunting. Have a quick brainstorm with a willing colleague and see what they think about your initial ideas. The affirmations or constructive criticisms can be liberating! 

Trick Three: Go Back and Summarise 

Return back to your content plan if you’re stuck on which direction to turn next. Keep summarising the purpose of what you’re writing in order to keep it concise and impactful. Remind yourself of the bigger picture to execute the finer details!  

Trick Four: Hold Up on the Intro

Starting a project is often the hardest part, so don’t be afraid of skipping the introduction and saving it for later. Don’t waste any time! It might be beneficial to write up your intro in the final stages of a draft anyway. Why? Because you’ve got clearer and more focussed ideas towards the end of your writing. 

Tip Four: Take Care of Your Mind

Your first draft really can take it out of you – creatively, emotionally, and mentally. Although stress is a perfectly natural by-product of any creative project, no copywriter should be slaving over a first draft so intensely that it detriments their mental health. 

Failing to look after yourself and your mind can have severe impacts on the quality of your written work too. You might think putting in extra overnight hours is helping reach your goals, but actually the strains of overworking could be causing your standards to slip. Every great writer needs to open their page feeling energised and enthusiastic. And every great draft needs a writer that’s taking care of themselves.

Most importantly, you should be fulfilled from the work you’re putting into your first draft. Satisfaction as a writer comes when you’re buzzing with creativity. 

Unfortunately it’s all too easy to fall into the wrong territories of bad habits when writing a first draft. It’s a time when strong coffees and late nights seem like the right option. However, we here at writefully suggest swapping your espresso for a nutritional smoothie and setting an early rising alarm instead of working until late. Here’s our four best tricks for healthy and happy first draft writing: 

Trick One: Embrace The Outdoors

In addition to eating well and getting eight hours of decent sleep, the great outdoors will work wonders on boosting your creative energy levels. Exercise in between your scheduled writing breaks and let your endorphins top up any depleted motivation. Whether it’s an intense jog or simply a dog walk around the park, taking the time to exercise outside will give you a fresh perspective on what you’ve already written.

Trick Two: Find Your Best Time and Place To Write

Copywriters can be early risers, night owls, or even someone that peaks nicely in between around midday. Find the right time you work productively in order to get the most out of your creativity. Your writing desk should also be your personal place of zen that dispels any worthless distractions or negative energy. Your first draft thrives on positivity only!

Trick Three: Get Into a Routine

Once you’ve found the time and place that you work best, get into a consistent routine with it. Your writing schedule needs your 100% commitment. But don’t be plagued with guilt if you do fall down an unplanned procrastinating rabbit hole. Just make up the time and remember the comeback is greater than the setback.

Trick Four: Practice Some Self-Love

It’s time you stop the repetitive self-criticisms of your work. Negative thoughts and opinions are simply useless. Practice some self-love instead by commending yourself on the hard graft you’ve put into your first draft. The greater self-esteem you have in the drafting process the more determined you’ll be to finish up with a proud smile.

Tip Five: Save Editing For Last

The final tip is perhaps the most important of all: save your editing for later! Of course you’re more than welcome to correct minor faults like typos and spelling mistakes. I’m not saying put an end to those types of corrections. But it’s important you leave the bigger, more complex errors for a second draft.

Why? Because fussing over the refinement of a draft simply makes the entire process a bigger hassle than it needs to be. Don’t over complicate things by refining words and sentences that don’t yet need to be perfect. Simply focus on the mission of getting your ideas and narratives onto paper in the most orderly fashion possible. 

Ignore your inner editor (for now)

Writing and editing are two very different processes, so try to ignore your inner editor for now. Your job as writer becomes far easier when you leave the editing process out.

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You may even find it useful if you allow yourself to have bullet points and notes scattered throughout wherever you need them. They might make your work seem messy and jumbled at first glance, but these kinds of supporting info chunks don’t need to be perfected the first time around. 

Having a rough and ready first draft is also useful for identifying what parts work well and what parts do not. Don’t be scared of keeping things in the first draft that you’re unsure of at first. Sometimes the cleverest ideas don’t come to you fully-baked. It can take a few tries to know how to fully form your thoughts. 

Put down the polishing brush

Your first draft doesn’t need to shine brightly. Put down the polishing brush and save the embellishments for later. Give your creative mind time to rest and tell your editing cap to be patient. 

Remember that you and an editor are the only people who’ll see this first draft. Lower any unfair standards that you’ve set yourself and stop worrying about what people will think of it just yet. It may go through many revisions before judgemental readers take out their nitpicking microscopes. 

Let yourself slip up

A clunky first draft is absolutely fine! Massive cuts come after you’ve finished and are ready to start editing with a clearer, more self-assured mind. The heavy cull of typos and blunders simply isn’t a priority just yet.

Try to break the habits of continuously rereading what you’ve written too. There’s plenty of opportunity to make the necessary Improvements after you’ve reached the finish line. Enhancing your draft with rewrites and rephrases will certainly brighten up your work, but first let yourself have some slip ups first.