In the last two posts I shared an important part of my writing process, the initial “brainstorm” or uninhibited first draft. I actually posted the unedited beginnings of a speech I’m working on.  (It felt like one of those dreams where you find yourself naked in a crowd of people who are all fully dressed.)

Few of us say what we really want to say or need to say in the first draft, yet it’s important to get it down, all those thoughts, opinions, memories and emotions bubbling to the top. The process, for me, accomplishes two important things. It sweeps my mind clean of debris so that I can find the deeper, more relevant message and – paradoxically –it shows me where my heart lies, in the small, sometimes quirky details that seem to explode on the page.

How to brainstorm the first draft of an article, essay, or speech:

Set aside a period of time, say fifteen or twenty minutes. Now lock up that inner editor and let loose, be it on the keyboard or with a pen and pad of paper. Keep writing, no rules, no holds barred. Don’t worry about form, just be honest. Write what comes out. After your allotted time is up, stop. The deadline creates pressure and forces you to produce some of your best writing – along with some of your worst.  Remember, you don’t have to show this to anybody!

During your first re-read, print out, if possible. While it might look like garbage, it almost certainly contains the heart of what you want to say. Circle or highlight strong phrases or sentences that ring true. Look for a thread that connects; look for a theme. Jot notes in the margins, write all over it. This is your map. Never throw away the uninhibited first draft. I often disregard this and am always sorry later, on the final revision.

Consider your form. Are you writing an essay, a speech, a short story or might this be a book length work? Who is your audience and what is the venue?  All of these will influence what you want to say and how you say it.  Now write your second draft. Read it aloud.   Make corrections and additions, and then give it a rest. While you’re not working on it, your subconscious mind is. Repeat the process. Next, let a trusted reader have a look and tell you what works and what doesn’t. Peer review before publication is a critical step. Consider their suggestions, or variations of their suggestions. We don’t write in a vacuum, we write to communicate. We write to connect. The first burst of words is an important part of the writing process. Be careful you don’t edit the life out of your piece as you develop your theme and polish your phrases.

The last thing you want to do is edit for grammar, punctuation, usage and spelling. Don’t stifle your creativity by imposing these conventions too soon.