10 Steps to Write Your First Draft

updated on 21 June 2021

Writing is a process. Toward the end of the process, a draft emerges. That's the outcome. Live the process and trust that the outcome will happen.

Step 1: Understand the purpose

Think about the “why” behind what you want to write about. Think of the ending and then work backwards from there.

Step 2: Assess the complexity

Could you explain what you want to write to someone in a few minutes?

Will the reader encounter any “unknowns”? Any “unknown unknowns”? Can the reader easily find out the unknowns? 

Know the complexity of your writing project beforehand and set realistic expectations.

Step 3: Research your project

Do an extensive internet search. You’ll be surprised at what you discover. You might stumble onto insights about your project. Jot down notes as you research. Early scribblings that don't reach sentence form. The goal here is not communication, it's compilation. At this stage, you should be able to converse with an expert about the subject. 

As you find information, think about how to communicate it to others. Knowing what to write is half the work, actually writing it is the other half.

Step 4: Gather all info

Gather all available information in one place. Notice connections. Identify sections. See how they relate to each other. Use this to organize your material.

Step 5: Come up with an outline

The larger the writing project, the more you need an outline. Outlining on paper helps you envision your path better.

Include sketches, charts, diagrams, shapes, and arrows. Lots of arrows. Visual markings spark creativity.

Step 6: Interview experts

Come up with a few questions. Don't script all your questions. Preparing all questions beforehand assumes you have a general sense of what the person is going to say. The most interesting bits are what you don't expect.

Say "wait" a lot. Slow down the conversation until you clearly understand what's being said. Be patient. Use humility as a tactic to get more info. Ask "why" up to five times to get to the root cause of issues. Mirror their words and gestures. It makes the experts feel heard.

Record your meetings to listen again.

Step 7: Get outside opinions

Seek out good external points of view. They might see what internal folks don't. Include readers or their proxies.

Step 8: Remove the noise

Go through all the info that you've gathered. Keep what matters and remove what doesn’t. Everybody has access to information. Your expertise is based on curating information. 

Step 9: Transform info into a draft

The real writing begins. Burn through your first draft. Write it as fast you can. Write down everything you know. Write without censoring yourself. The goal is to just kickstart the process.

Don't fuss over the sentences. This is not for people to read. Good enough is perfect. Turn down the voice of your inner critic. Just keep going. Stay on one topic or flip from one topic to another.

Save your critical voice for later. After you have the first draft, you can go back and work on the title and all sections of the doc. With each draft, your standards will get higher. Until each word will have to prove its worth.

Step 10: Advance iteratively

Trust that iteration will get you there. Revise, revise, revise, and revise some more.

Step away for a while. The breaks are part of the process.

When you finish the draft, you'll feel the satisfaction for finishing it.

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