by Su T Fitterman
As the parent of two young adults, I have put up with a lot in the past 20 years. It comes with the motherhood gig. But there’s one commandment I have insisted upon over the years:
“Thou shall write at least four drafts of a report or paper before handing in a final copy.”
My offspring have complained. “Why can’t you be like a normal parent and just tell us not to drink or do drugs?” they have asked time and again. (“Because, idjits,” I tell them, “I trust your good judgment. It’s your sloppy writing I take issue with.”)
I am stating here and now: one draft does not a good letter nor assignment nor article nor blog post make. Ever. What makes writing great is rewriting. Which means you need more than one draft.
Here’s the good news. There are only three rules you need to follow to write well.
Rule No. 1. Write a crappy first draft. This is brilliant advice from Daphne Gray-Grant of Publication Coach. Get something down on paper or up on the computer screen. Blurt it out. Don’t worry about content or style or length. Most important, don’t edit while you write. You want your crappy first draft to happen quickly. Editing as you go will just interrupt the process.
Rule No. 2. After you write your crappy first draft, don’t look at it till the next day. It won’t seem as lousy and this will cheer you up immensely.
Rule No. 3. Give yourself enough time to edit this first draft at least three times, and give yourself at minimum a few hours between each edit. Usually people don’t edit enough because they haven’t scheduled in sufficient time to do so before a deadline. But it’s during this stage—when you ensure your idea is good, your paragraphs flow, your sentences do not run on, your spelling is correct—that your writing goes from crappy to impressive.
I have no clue if my kids have become decent writers. They stopped showing me their work years ago: “Standards too high, mom. No teacher expects what you do.”
But if you follow these three rules, your writing will be solid. I promise.
Of course, if writing’s not your thing, you have an option my kids never had—hiring me to do it for you.