How To Write A First Draft

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Do you want to know the secret to bringing your writing ideas to life?

Free yourself from the pressure of perfection and write a terrible first draft.

Think about how Michaelangelo approached his work. He didn’t start with a perfectly crafted statue. He started with a block of marble and gradually shaped it into “David.” Your first draft is your block of marble that you can mold and refine into something truly epic. And your job is to pour your thoughts and ideas onto the page, no matter how disjointed or raw they may seem.

We want you to embrace the messiness and uncertainty that comes with the writing process.

And whether you're a seasoned writer or just starting out, writing a first draft can be a daunting task. However, with the right approach and a few tips, you can make writing effortless and more enjoyable.

What Is The Point Of Writing A First Draft?

Your first draft is ONLY about getting your ideas on the page. Period.

The problem is believing you must start with the first word, and then keep going, and going, and going, until you reach the end. This is a mistake. Writing is iterative. You assemble your writing piece by piece.

The writing process looks like this:

  • Draft 1: Ask, “What am I trying to say to WHO? Why? And what are the big ideas? ”
  • Draft 2: Add what’s missing. Say everything you need to say.
  • Draft 3: Eliminate what doesn't need to be said.
  • Draft 4: Find ways to say what you're saying, faster.
  • Draft 5: Refine, clarify, and be more specific.

If you attempt to complete all five steps in a single sitting, you end up spending more time than you need, which is a recipe for frustration.

What Should Be Included In Your First Draft?

Draft 1 is an outline of all your main points.

The writing process becomes much easier when you have a solid outline. All you have to do is connect the dots, rather than trying to come up with ideas, connect them, and edit all at once.

"Freight train" your way through everything you want to say. Focus on writing bullet points. Don't worry about sentences, spelling, grammar, or anything else. Rip out your backspace button and let your ideas flow without correcting yourself.

You'll know you're done when you have nothing left to say and the itch has stopped.

And when it’s time to edit, you can put the backspace button back in.

How to Write A First Draft: 6 Steps To Bring Your Ideas To Life

Now that the pressure is off, let’s write a sh*tty first draft!

Step #1: Find Your “North Star”

Get clear on exactly who your target reader is, what you want to say to them, and why they will find it compelling. Map out exactly what you want the reader to think & feel when they read your content.

In Ship 30 for 30, we call this Pinpoint Writing: using specificity to gain clarity as to who exactly your target reader is (by answering the following questions):

  • What problem am I solving?
  • Whose problem am I solving?
  • What emotion am I creating?
  • What action am I encouraging?
  • What benefit am I unlocking?

After you have answered these questions, boil your ideas down into the following simple copywriting framework:

  • How To {Outcome} Without {The Obstacle}
  • Or How to {What does the reader want} without the (What’s the hard part for the reader}

For example:

  • How To Make Tons of Money Without Working 60 Hours Per Week
  • How To Become A Digital Writer Without Spending $120K On An English Degree
  • Or How To Write A First Draft Without The Pressure Of Perfection

The majority of the time you spend on the first draft should be spent here. If you can’t fill in the template, then you don’t know what you are writing about (yet). You need to figure that out FIRST in order to begin.

This is your “North Star.”

Step #2: Bullet-Point Brain Dump

Now that you know where you are going, it’s time to get everything out of your head.

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes
  • Write down all the main ideas you want to cover
  • Even random or seemingly unimportant concepts

Use bullet points to organize your thoughts and make them easier to read. Again, don't worry about grammar, spelling, or structure at this stage. Keep writing until the timer goes off.

Take a break if you need to and walk around for a few minutes to clear your mind. Then go back to your list and start grouping similar ideas together. Turn your grouped ideas into an outline with main points and subpoints.

Outlining is 90% of writing your first draft.

Step #3: Develop (More) Headline Ideas

After you have completed your bullet-point brain dump, review your list of main ideas and ensure that each one still aligns with the "North Star" you came up with in Step 1. If any of your ideas no longer align, revise or remove them.

Now brainstorm 5 more headline ideas. Push yourself to increase the voltage and specificity of the headline. Focus on crafting short, concise, and attention-grabbing headlines that accurately reflect the points in your article.

Iterate until you find one that you like and choose the best one.

Step #4: Prep The Page

Congratulations you have done the hard work of creating your first draft!

To immediately make the next step in the drafting process less intimidating, "Prep the page."

  • Open a blank document
  • Write your North Star or revised headline at the top
  • Add your outline as your subheads
  • Put all your main points in an order that makes sense

Now you are ready to fill it in!

Step #5: Fill In The Skeleton

For each point in your outline, flesh out the details.

Think about what would be most useful for the reader to understand each point you are making. Add steps, examples, reasons, mistakes, stories, etc. to help illustrate and clarify your ideas. Use these details to add depth and credibility to your content.

Focus on one section at a time, and don't worry about getting everything perfect.

Get your words on the page.

Step #6: Marinate And Publish

Give yourself time to step away from the draft.

Take a day or two to come back and read it with fresh eyes.

For example, Dickie outlines his ideas on a walk every morning and then fills in the draft from 6 to 7:30 AM. The next morning, he reads it aloud, and makes any necessary edits. Then he hits "publish" before he feels completely ready.


Because every great piece of writing starts as a less-than-great draft.

Boom! You did it, congrats on writing your first draft.

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