The concept of a rough draft is really beautiful when you stop to think about it. A rough draft gives me an opportunity to embrace my imperfections and stop worrying about trivial issues such as spelling and grammar. When I’m writing longhand, my first draft looks pretty rough, believe me. Nothing is spelled correctly and the paper is covered with crossed-out words and arrows winging words and phrases to different parts of the page.
When I compose my first draft on the computer, the result is much neater but I’m constantly faced with the temptation to stop writing and go back to correct my typos and grammatical errors, which can interrupt my train of thought. A typed page looks more polished, so it can be tricky for me to remember that this is still a rough draft and has plenty of room for improvement.
When I work with students at the writing center, I always speak of their writing as a draft. When you look at your writing as a draft, it is easier to think of writing as a process and be more open to suggestions for improving your work. The process of drafting can be incredibly freeing when you realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not know where you’re going with your main point or how you are going to conclude your paper. Writing is a process of discovery, and discovery can be a messy business–just like drafting.
The beauty of a rough draft is that you don’t have to write with your audience in mind. You don’t have to aim for perfection. The truth is, your first draft will probably be a piece of crap. And that’s okay. Anne Lamott, a hilarious and relatable writer who does an amazing job discussing the insecurities and struggles writers face, calls these “shitty first drafts.” (I thoroughly recommend her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you haven’t read it yet, you should check it out as soon as possible!)
Rough drafts remind you that your writing still has room to improve. Second and third drafts are the places to address global issues such as logical consistency, organization, and clarity, as well as more specific issues such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. Later drafts are the place to think about your audience and make sure you’re explaining yourself in ways that others can understand.
The main thing is, once you have a rough draft, it’s all out there on the paper where you can see it and edit it. It doesn’t matter how incoherent and unreadable your first draft is. Now that’s it’s out of your brain and on the paper, you can go through it paragraph by paragraph and line by line if you have to. You can cut and paste it like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the beauty of a rough draft.