What Do We Really Get from an ‘Ugly Draft?’

ToadWe don’t become writers because we want to produce a piece that is ‘average,’ ‘OK,’ or ‘up to basic standards.’ We want greatness. From our high school love poetry to our expansive series of novels, we writers tend to crave confirmation that we have at last produced something perfect. Faced with the drive to create perfection and unable to produce it, we instead create nothing at all.

It is at times like these, when we want so badly to write, that we need to write badly. I’m not talking about a metaphor that misses the mark a little bit, or about a piece of dialogue that’s just missing something – I’m talking about sloppy, half-thought-out, ugly writing. I want you to cringe when you go over it the next day, hoping to salvage a line or even a paragraph from the stinking heap you produced.

I also want you to realize that you won’t always be able to salvage parts of your ugly drafts. It’s nice when you can, but you must remember that the purpose of an ugly draft is not to produce something you can use later. We use ugly drafts (also known as pre-drafts, or cognitive drafts, or don’t-bring-this-back-into-my-office drafts) simply as a means of getting our thoughts down on paper. This may seem like a pointless exercise, but you must realize that very, very few people can turn their thoughts into a coherent sentence on the first go-round. If it sometimes takes you two or three incoherent sentences before you write what you mean, then congratulations! You’re still well ahead of someone who hasn’t practiced the craft of writing.

The English language is not a perfect reflection of our innermost thoughts, but rather a shorthand for them. When you produce an inelegant, poorly-organized piece of writing, you are still far from the final product. However, you’ll have a much better idea of exactly what you’re trying to say with your piece, and you’ll be one step closer to breaking through that writer’s block and producing something that people will want to read.