I know I said I was going to write a series on creating style guidelines without a writer, but something came up today, and I need to address it.
I was talking to a work colleague about documentation, and he apologized about how his notes were a “bad first draft” of a proposal. Without even thinking, I blurted out “the first draft is always perfect, because all it needs to do is exist”.
That’s right. The first draft is always perfect. perfect. Its only job is to exist. Like minerals. Like dirt. Like air. It just needs to be. All a first draft need be is an idea borne into reality. A first draft is something made tangible from nothing – its only purpose is to pierce the space between your thoughts and the reality we all share.
I picked up this wisdom from my thesis advisor. After a semester and a summer of research, I was struggling with getting the thoughts out onto paper. I was starting to fall behind schedule. After listening to me whining about how I just couldn’t express what I had to say, my advisor challenged me. He said:
Casey. You're overthinking it. Just sit down and write. The first draft is always perfect. All it's got to do is exist. So just sit down and write.
His advice stuck. I banged out a first draft within a few weeks. I revised, re-thought, and re-imagined that draft. I ended up with a kick-ass thesis that I’m absolutely proud of. I still have my first draft somewhere, and I’m sure it’s perfect.