I will write New York Times best seller in the first go!
-The writer who never finished a single book
Take a moment.
Recall your thoughts while quitting your last writing session.
“I am not good enough.”
“This idea is a waste of time.”
“I’ll never finish this.”
Do these thoughts sound familiar?
You are certainly not alone.
Well, roughly 7 out of 10 aspiring writers abandon a writing project at some point.
Does this mean you cannot be a writer?
You are as capable as the legendary Ernest Hemingway.
Even he struggled to get started on his first drafts.
But instead of giving up, he came up with a solution.
“Eating the Frog”
Hold on - I didn’t mean literally boil and eat a frog.
It’s a productivity hack.
"Eating the frog" means starting with the most difficult part.
- If you find writing a paragraph hard, start by writing that first sentence.
- If you find writing a page hard, start by writing that first paragraph.
- If you find writing a book hard, start by writing that first chapter.
And everything else will be easier by comparison.
In this blog, you’ll learn how to apply this trick to fight your negative thoughts and get started on your first draft.
By the end, you’ll have expert tips to push your first draft out with greater ease. (And four editing hacks too!)
To take control of your writing goals, just dive in.
- From Brain to Page: Why Is Starting the First Draft Hard?
- Why Is the First Draft Worth Starting, Even if it's Terrible?
- Get Started: Practical Tips for Writing the First Draft
- Polish Your Writing: 4 Hacks To Edit Your First Draft
- Key Takeaways
From Brain to Page: Why Is Starting the First Draft Hard?
Writing on a blank page is hard and scary for one single reason - Uncertainty.
You have no guarantee of what you’ll produce on a blank page.
Even if you somehow start, you try to gain control. We inherently seek control in our often unpredictable world. (Thanks to evolutionary history!)
You obsess over every detail. You plan every aspect of writing.
But the more you cling to the idea of certainty, the more you find yourself struggling.
Here’s what you do while writing your first draft (simultaneously):
- You are creating ideas
- You are evaluating ideas
One on hand, you are discovering novel, compelling ideas. On the other hand, you are critically thinking about the structure, logic, and clarity of your writing.
In short, you are chasing perfection.
Perfection is impossible. You are bound to fail.
When you fail, you begin to doubt your abilities as a writer.
This self-doubt doesn’t let you write.
You struggle with thoughts like,
"I'm not good enough.😔”
"I'll never be able to write something great 😨”
"What's the point of even trying if I know I won't be able to make it perfect? 😖*”*
And what do you do to fight these thoughts?
You close your laptop and postpone your writing session. And keep avoiding it.
This endless delaying is procrastination!
Your procrastination is a way to cope with perfectionism & self-doubt.
By delaying your writing,
- you avoid the pressure to be perfect.
- you avoid the fear of failure.
You may get temporary relief, but…
procrastination only makes things worse.
When you procrastinate, you feel guilty for not writing.
This, in turn, feeds your self-doubt — "See, I knew I wasn't good enough to do this."
It's a VICIOUS cycle!
Perfection —> Self-doubt —> Procrastination —> Self-doubt
This Vicious Cycle is what makes getting started writing so hard.
And that’s where the “Eating the Frog” mindset comes useful.
Write now, think later. Just put your ideas on paper and produce the first draft.
It doesn’t matter how good is your first draft.
What really matters is to HAVE the first draft.
Let’s understand why.
Why Is the First Draft Worth Starting, Even if It's Terrible?
Writing the first draft is liberating.
Let me explain.
The pressure to create a perfect draft makes you restless. You feel caged while trying to control every minute detail of your writing.
Imagine shutting the analytical part of your brain for once.
Imagine giving yourself a free hand in writing. And letting your ideas just flow. Without worrying about their quality, grammar, spelling, or logic.
It feels like freedom.
You will be excited to explore new ideas when your inner editor is silent. You will tap into your true potential as a writer.
Moreover, as you get through your first draft, your inner writer is reborn. You are now not just wiser but more confident in your abilities.
Because you simply realize writing is practically possible for you.
Here Are 3 Major Benefits:
Get In The Flow:
- You procrastinate writing due to
- the pressure to perform well and
- the fear of failure.
- But when you allow yourself to write imperfectly (terribly),
- you get rid of both these factors at once.
- Will you doubt that you can’t write badly?
- No way!
- So, with no perfectionism and self-doubt in your way,
- you will write without resistance.
- As you keep producing small chunks of your writing project, you will feel motivated to keep moving forward and FINISH the project.
- And guess what?
- You will not face Writer’s Block, which mainly arises from wanting to make an idea perfect.
- Non-judgmental writing keeps you in the flow throughout the first draft.
- Your thoughts are intangible when they are in your head.
- You can’t get them in one place and evaluate.
- You can’t see the whole story in totality or read it from point A to B.
- But when your ideas are on paper, you get a tangible product.
- A product that’s easy to evaluate and refine.
- You will quickly spot grammatical errors, complex sentences, flawed logic, and many other loopholes, etc.
- Trust me, you will be like,
- “These mistakes are so obvious. What was I even thinking?”
- So, if you wish to make your ideas flawless and more compelling,
- get your thoughts on paper!!
- That’s your starting point in the journey of creating a QUALITY final draft.
📌 In the first draft of "Jurassic Park" (1993), the plot focused on creating dinosaurs through genetic engineering for military purposes, which created a major plot hole because it was unclear why the military would need dinosaurs. By changing the plot to a theme park that showcased cloned dinosaurs, writer Michael Crichton eliminated this plot hole and created a more believable and compelling story.
Build Your Blueprint:
- As you start writing, you get more insights and perspectives.
- You’ll find new ideas that you may not have thought before.
- You will discover new themes, better arguments, plot points, etc. that will form the backbone of your project.
- Writing your first draft will further clarify your vision or core message. You won’t feel lost or uncertain anymore.
- You’ll have answers to questions like:
- What is the main purpose of my project?
- What are the main ideas I want to explore?
- How convincing are my arguments?
- What value I am offering to my audience?
- What is the tone and effect I should adapt to?
And many more.
With the main writing points in place, you’ll have the blueprint of your project.
Refining this blueprint will eventually produce your desired draft.
The writing draft that you had procrastinated for in the first place.
Get Started: Practical Tips for Writing the First Draft
By now, we have learned that
You have three obstacles in your way of starting the first draft:
All three combined are deadly and make you helpless.
The following tips will help you break out of this vicious cycle.
Let’s get started:
1. Set Realistic Goals 🎯
What’s less stressful?
Climbing the mountain in a day or climbing a 5 km stretch.
Obviously, a small 5 km stretch feels easily achievable.
You don’t mind getting started on the climbing.
Similarly, to get started on your writing,
avoid aiming for high aspirations that may feel overwhelming.
Deciding to write a novel in a month
or aiming for 10 hours a day,
or finishing a chapter in a week….is terrifying.
Start with a manageable goal — 30 minutes a day or 10 pages a week.
You’ll find these small goals attainable.
And when you don’t feel intimidated by the task at hand,
you start writing every day, building a habit.
(You fall in love with the act of writing).
Secondly, track your progress with the "Seinfeld Strategy.” It's pretty simple:
- Get yourself a calendar (Place it on your writing table)
- Every day you write, mark the day with an ❎
- For every day you don't – leave that day blank. ⏹️
By making your progress visible, you feel motivated to work every day.
You would not want to break the chain of “X” marks.
This helps you develop a consistent writing habit.
2. Embrace imperfection 🧩
Perfection is an illusion; progress is real. — Annette Whitehead.
Reiterating again, the goal of writing your first draft is:
to convert your ideas into written form (tangible).
Before you judge your first draft, you need to get it written.
So, stop chasing perfection.
Give yourself permission to write a "bad" first draft.
A writing piece is easier to edit when it exists on paper; and not in your head..
Here are 3 hacks to write imperfectly:
- Write in short bursts:
Break your writing sessions into smaller periods of time. — 10 or 15 minutes each.
Set a timer and make the clock visible to you.
Now, write as much as you can in that time without stopping to edit.
Don’t censor anything (Write first, think later).
Don’t allow yourself to make it perfect. By setting a deadline for yourself, you’ll get rid of the pressure to perform well
By writing in short bursts, you will be more focused & motivated.
- Write longhand:
Longhand means writing by hand with a pen or pencil on paper.
The idea is with your devices turned off, you will write with more focus.
There’s no backspace, undo, or delete button.
So, no self-editing (mistakes are bound to happen).
Moreover, using a pen to write slows your mind down.
You become more conscious of your thoughts and think more deeply.
- Practice "morning pages”:
Morning Pages is an exercise by author Julia Cameron.
The exercise involves writing three pages every morning.
But writing exactly what? — whatever comes to your mind.
This is not your main writing session but a preparation to it for the day. That’s why the focus is on the act of writing itself rather than the content.
The exercise will vent thoughts or worries weighing on your mind
and clear the way for more creative ideas.
You will feel light & level-headed.
So, when you’ll sit for your main writing session, you’ll be way more productive.
3. Create an Outline 📝
A writing outline lists out the main ideas and sub-ideas of a subject.
A standard outline looks like this:
- Main Body
- Idea 1
- Idea 2
- Idea 3
Your outline helps you in 3 ways:
- Dividing your project into small chunks makes your writing less stressful. (A 5-km stretch instead of the mountain).
- Your mind has lesser work to do at a time. You will have your full attention thinking about a particular small writing section.
- You don’t face the blank page every day. Having main ideas in front of you keeps you going. You not only feel motivated but hardly meets with writer’s block.
📌 "I'm a big believer in the magic of outlines. If I have a solid outline, I can sit down and write even when I don't feel like it. And if I don't have an outline, I'm lost.” — Stephen King.
4. Celebrate small milestones 🏆
Writing a first draft is a marathon, not a sprint.
It takes time, effort, and consistency to complete.
You need to reward yourself along the way.
When you hit a certain word count or finish a weekly goal, pat yourself on the back.
It could be treating yourself to a fancy coffee or a Netflix binge session.
Here’s how it helps:
- When you achieve a hard goal, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine gives you feelings of pleasure & satisfaction.
- At this point, when you treat yourself, your brain records this moment. It reinforces the behavior that led to the reward.
- Your brain is now motivated to repeat the behavior to get the reward again. It creates a positive feedback loop.
Essentially, by celebrating those small wins, you train yourselves to enjoy the act of writing.
Outcome — Your desire to complete the draft is stronger.
📌 "I celebrate each chapter of a book with a really good meal. It's something to look forward to, and a great way to acknowledge progress." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of "Half of a Yellow Sun."
"Stopping Mid-Sentence" Technique
Every time you are about to end a writing session, intentionally stop writing in the middle of a sentence. Leave it incomplete.
By stopping mid-sentence, you create a starting point for your next session.
This helps you to avoid a blank page when you start writing again.
It builds momentum and avoids procrastination.
The "Stopping Mid-Sentence" technique is often attributed to the American writer Ernest Hemingway.
Polish Your Writing: 4 Hacks to Edit Your First Draft
Editing your first draft is where real work begins.
While editing, your brain is doing only one job - Evaluation. (No tussle with the creativity).
You know where your writing stands…
You know where you want to take it…
And the bridge you need is Editing.
Here’s how editing benefits you:
- Editing sharpens your writing.
you fix technical errors like spelling, grammar, tenses, etc.
and you revise word choices, sentence structure, and tone
These changes make your piece more compelling.
"I went to the store, and then I went to my friend's house, and then we watched a movie.
"After editing:"After going to the store, I headed over to my friend's house, where we watched a movie together."
- Improves your argument:
Editing helps you clarify your ideas as you look at them from a fresh angle.
Your ideas may need more convincing arguments or credible evidence.
You might need to be more specific in your ideas. You may need additional research on a few topics. With a little bit of tweaking, your writing will be more persuasive.
For example, the initial argument may be:
"Social media has a negative impact on mental health.
"According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, excessive use of social media causes higher levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness, suggesting a negative impact on mental health.”
- Editing gives you a natural high:
Athletes experience the “runner’s high” after intense exercise.
Editing your first draft is also an intense mental exercise.
So, once you finish editing, you experience similar chemical pathways in the brain as an athlete. You get a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.
This natural high motivates you to keep working on your writing.
So grab that red pen and experience the euphoria of the editing process!
Here are a few strategies for effective editing:
1 . Take a break before editing:
You get too attached to your first draft from working closely for a long time.
After all, it’s your baby.
So, you lose the objectivity to find faults in your piece.
It’s best to create psychological distance from your work.
Abandon the project and do something relaxing. Completely unrelated.
Trust me, you’ll come back with fresh eyes,
and you’ll be ready to notice inconsistencies. (But be honest!)
📌 Isaac Asimov found a major plot hole in his story "Nightfall" after taking a break from it, despite thinking it was complete. Upon revisiting the story, he realized that he had made an error in the timing of the planet's eclipse, which he corrected before republishing the story.
2. Read your work out loud:
Reading out loud activates two pathways in your brain - Visual & Auditory.
That reading silently doesn’t.
While reading out loud, you are forced to slow down. And you pay closer attention to each sentence.
And this makes easier to spot:
Complex and unclear sentences
Difficult reading flow and pacing
Technical mistakes - Grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
📌 "Reading out loud to yourself, or someone else, is a good test of whether the writing has achieved clarity and coherence. If you stumble over the words, the reader probably will too.” — Virginia Woolf.
3. Focus on one aspect at a time:
Editing can be overwhelming while trying to fix everything at once.
Take one area at a time.
You can prioritize different aspects depending on your work.
Here are some common aspects (in a standard priority):
- Clarity & Coherence of ideas
- Organization of paragraphs
- Grammar and punctuation
- Sentence structure
- Tone and voice
- Vocabulary and word choice
Focusing one aspect at a time reduces the “Cognitive Load” on your brain.
For instance, focus on clarity before moving on to pacing or Grammar.
It makes the process more manageable & effective.
And you can pay each aspect the attention it deserves.
4. Collaborate with others:
Writing is a lonely business.
It's just you and your thoughts trying to create something out of nothing.
But with a writing partner or mentor, you've got someone in your corner.
They can bring out the best in your work. Here’s how:
- Fresh perspective - A writing partner or mentor can help you see things from a different angle. They point out things you may have missed.
- Objectivity - They aren’t emotionally invested in your work. And so, they can be more ruthless in evaluating your work.
- Expertise - An experienced writing partner or mentor can bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. They might help you with their expertise in grammar, style, narrative, etc.
- Accountability - Knowing that someone else is expecting you to make progress is a great motivator.
- Emotional support - Your mentor can make the otherwise emotionally draining process of writing much smoother.
📌 Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, credited her editor, Robert Gottlieb, with helping her refine her work and improve her writing. She once said, "I know I am a better writer because of [Gottlieb's] work.”
If you are looking for a mentor, look no further.
At BBR English, you can get your personal mentor to accelerate your English speaking and writing skills.
In Live 1:1 sessions, your mentor helps you target your specific needs and goals. With their expertise and personalized feedback, you can take your writing to the next level.
Get more consistent and accountable in your writing goals.
Book our 1:1 counseling session with a mentor today!
Here are some key takeaways from our post:
💡Getting started on writing is hard because of the uncertainty involved.
💡Pursuing perfection leads to self-doubt and procrastination.
💡Avoid procrastination with realistic goals and progress tracking (Seinfeld Strategy).
💡Embrace imperfection by writing freely, in short bursts, or in longhand.
💡Create a positive feedback loop by celebrating small milestones.
💡Editing is where the real work begins: Focus on one aspect at a time.
💡Collaborating with experts brings out the best in you. (Get a personal mentor)
We would like to hear from you.
What’s your biggest struggle while writing anything in general?
Comment with your answers!
Team BBR English
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