I spent some time over the summer re-learning how to write better documents at work. As I look back at the lessons I learnt by observing what I actually changed in how I approached writing, the biggest one was willingly breaking up with the first draft.
Barbara Minto in “The Pyramid Principle” made a strong impression when she said the biggest writing problem most people have is learning to separate the thinking from the writing. She poked fun at how the first draft takes on an “incredible beauty” in the author’s eyes that we don’t like to disturb.
I found her observation to be spot on. We write the first draft for ourselves – to clarify our own thinking. And, if we embrace the process of rewriting, we write subsequent drafts for our intended audience.
There’s a meta learning in this too – we have a tendency to get comfortable after an initial learning period in any new skill. It takes a lot of effort to fight inertia and break out of version 1.0 into the next. And, then again to the next. To get better, we need to embrace “what got you here won’t get you there,” push for feedback and learning, and embrace reinvention.
It is how getting better works – in life as in writing.
(Via A Learning a Day)
I explained my writing process, similar to the above, to a Japanese colleague last week. “First drafts,” I told him, “don’t need to be perfect. They shouldn’t be. Your draft should be a mess and too long and full of notes. Even when getting things refined for version 1, don’t aim for perfect. Aim for good enough.”
Besides, few if any work documents stay static. Those that do either say nothing useful or no one makes use of them.