We all joke that people go into communications because they hate math, which is true to some extent.
However, there’s a secret cohort of people who work in the field of communications who really don’t enjoy writing.
Maybe their strength is in building relationships with the press or in analyzing data. Or writing in general is fine for them, but they’ve got nerves about one particular project. Maybe even they just aren’t feeling it because it’s a cold, rainy Tuesday and their internet is slowand they’d rather be doing anything than tapping out another piece of long-form content.
Whatever the reason, there are times when we all have to power through and find a way to write that prose when we’d really rather be doing something we’re better at. Yet deadlines wait for no one, so we must press on.
Here’s how to do it.
Create a zero draft
You’re certainly familiar with the concept of a first draft. But sometimes, you need to give yourself grace to throw words on the page without it needing to be a full, proper piece of readable material.
I call this, “Getting the white off the page,” or pushing through the initial overwhelming feeling of needing to create something out of nothing.
There are a variety of ways you can tackle a zero draft. You can just start by typing free association, whatever comes to mind. That could look like this example:
This is a story about writing for people who hate writing. I don’t hate writing but I understand that feeling of not being excited to write sometimes. Like now. So, what do I do? What do I do. Good question. OK, I start by…
From there, you can generate ideas in a stream-of-consciousness style. You can then take the good points (and cut all the throat clearing and complaining that might creep into your writing) and use those stronger points to form your outline.
Or you could start directly with the outline if the initial idea is not your cup of tea. Sometimes just getting an idea framework in place – without needing to worry about things like transitions or even the quality of the writing – can be a boon.
Also, because no story in the year 2023 is complete without an AI mention, you could ask ChatGPT or the generative AI program of your choice to write a first draft.
Be aware, this draft will more than likely be just as lousy as your stream-of-consciousness ramblings. Thankfully, his is not the last step of writing, but the first. Still, having a robot take a stab at the initial writing process can give you an idea of where to start, or simply show you what you don’t want to write. Gain inspiration or edit liberally, your call.
The first step is usually the hardest. Once you have an idea of what you want to write and how you want it to flow, it’s time to get down to nuts and bolts.
Give yourself permission to suck
Yes, we said it. Even if you’ve started with a zero draft, you still don’t have to have a perfect, polished draft by the time you set about creating your actual first draft.
Grammar a mess? That’s fine, you’ll fix it later.Quotes in huge blocks? That’s fine, you’ll fix it later, too.
Order a mess? That’s fine, you’ll revamp it as needed..
Just get that draft done so that it looks vaguely like a story your readers would happily digest.
Once that’s done, then put it in a drawer and walk away. We mean it.
This is metaphorical, of course but in some instances it’s a writer’s reality. Once you have a real first draft, walk away from it for a while. Ideally, come back the next day or after you’ve had some breathing room from it – we get, looming deadlines and all. By then you’ll have created some emotional distance from the draft and be able to read it more like it was written by someone else.
This is when you go in with a critical eye and fix all the things that you let go the first time. Clean up the grammar (don’t be afraid to rely on Grammarly or ChatGPT here), break up the quotes, tighten up the language and give it another once over.
If possible, it’s always ideal to ask for another person’s opinion. They’ll have additional improvements and be able to tell you if you’re hitting the mark or not – this requires a bit of thick skin. But if another person isn’t available, trust yourself. You got to where you are because you’re good. You can do this. Even when you really don’t want to.
Writing is never easy. But it’s always a mountain you can climb. Now let’s write.