We diffuse our focus and use up valuable writing energy when we try to “reason with” or overcome distracting thoughts. The solution to creating fantastic first drafts is much simpler. First, accept that “mental chatter happens.” Then, redirect your mental chatter as you write.
Ever notice that when you’re just about to get a shot, the nurse suddenly asks about your job, your family or your summer plans? When we’re faced with a task we resist (getting a shot, writing a first draft), it’s much easier to relax when we’re focused on something else.
Decide What the “Cheese” Is. Before you begin to write, choose one element (”content” or “form”) to define your Swiss cheese draft’s structure. In other words, answer the question, “what’s the ‘cheese?’”
If you’re drafting a persuasive essay, you may want to sketch out the basic structure of your argument, using placeholders for specific facts, anecdotes or context to support your points. This emphasis on drafting the piece’s structure is an example of a focus on form.
Once you’re defined your “cheese,” write a one-sentence statement of “what I’m going for in this draft” and put it at the top of your screen or page. (Tip: you may choose to emphasize the word “draft” as a reminder.)
Step #2 - Limit Your Time.
Decide to spend a specific and limited amount of time writing your Swiss cheese draft. For example, “I’ll draft my new article for the next two hours, until 12 noon…no more, no less.”
(Tip: To stay focused on your project, send a friend a “bookending” email, Tweet or text message. Tell them you’re starting your draft, and describe your time limit. Let them know how long it’ll be before you report back to them with a quick progress report. Bookending is amazingly effective!)
Step #3 - Mark the Holes as You Go.
As you write, use placeholders such as “X”, “[REWORK],” [??]” or “_________________” to hold space for things to add later.
Step #4 - Notice and Redirect.
As you’re writing, your mind may still speak up and try to distract you from writing. If this happens, here’s your chance to greet it wisely.
“Sit tight, now…I’ll be with you shortly.”
Step # 5 - Cure the Draft Before You Revise
Your finished Swiss cheese draft may be cured and ready to revise as early as two days after creation. It may need longer to settle. Let your aesthetic palette guide you, and when it’s time to sample your draft, enjoy your flavorful first effort.