Where Do First Drafts Come From?

One of my favorite movies, Finding Forrester, has a great line in it about writing: “You write the first draft with your heart. You write the second draft with your head.”

While, in the movie, Forrester is talking about writing novels, this advice applies just as directly to writing the dissertation. You see, so often, ABD’s find it difficult to generate the first draft because they don’t realize they need to write with their hearts.

I advise all my clients to write a messy first draft, one filled with passion and developing thoughts and enthusiasm. Then I suggest they take this first draft and begin to refine it into something more scholarly and complete.

The clients who listen to me on this actually draft more quickly and enjoy their writing process much more. Interesting, huh?

The reason this works is because you need to know what you want to say- what is most important to highlight, what resonates most, in order to create powerful and persuasive writing. Too often, dissertation writers don’t even know what they *really* think, and try to sound authoritative. Then, to make matters worse, they take this disconnected writing and try to polish it up, becoming more and more disengaged with each attempt.

It’s no wonder that, in this way of doing things, so many of you feel out of touch with the “juice” of your topic- what drew you to study it or learn more about it in the first place.

The best first drafts are written quickly, and are free-flowing. Writing is not revising. Writing is not editing. You know you are writing when the words move smoothly out of you, and where there are no long pauses or feelings of grasping for the right word to say. When you see yourself typing, stopping, deleting, typing again, pausing— these are all signs that you’re trying to edit before you’ve written.

Writing must always precede editing. Mix the two, and you have poor writing and poor editing, both of which take up about twice as much time as needed.

So, to answer the question, where do first drafts come from?

They come from a solid background in the topic- where you’ve read enough to feel you understand at least the basic outline and foundation of your topic. They come from allowing yourself the space to write, to let words flow freely from you, even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going (yet) and you’re pretty sure some of what you’re writing belongs somewhere else.

Once you’ve written about a topic as fully as you can, and as rapidly as you can, then it’s time to take a break for a day or two, and start the process of editing and revising.

First drafts come from the heart. Second drafts come from the head.

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