Your First Draft is NEVER Your Final Draft

Are you struggling to finish your first draft? Are you stuck and have not been able to make progress with your writing?

In this training, I share with you tips on how to put your thoughts and ideas on paper so you can get unstuck.

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Your First Draft Doesn’t Have to Look Like the Final Draft

I just finished a two-day virtual writing retreat. These are intense, and I just put everything into it.

Not only is it a time when we come together for writing, but I’m also encouraging, teaching, and coaching the entire time. I really get an inside look into what authors are struggling with.

One of the things that kept coming up over and over again is that the first draft has to be almost like a final draft. What I found out is that several of the authors that were part of my retreat wanted to write their first draft so well.

So they go back and edit it, work at it, and it was just detailed in that first draft that it was almost like they were making it their final draft.

So, I want to share with you some thoughts that I had about getting your book out of your head and onto paper in record time.

I really, truly believe that many of you out there are writers. You might have manuscripts in process, yet because of over thinking, perfectionism, and just wanting it to be right the first time, those manuscripts have never been published.

If that’s true, or if that’s you, let me know in the comments. Let me know that, “Yes, Shelley, that’s me. I have a manuscript that I’ve never finished because I have either been over thinking. I want it to be so high quality and I just got stuck.”

I want you to think about a few things.

When you are writing your first draft, I want you to repeat to yourself over and over again,

“My first draft is not my final draft”.

No one has to see your first draft. No one! Not even your editor. Nobody! Your first draft is for your eyes only.

Even people like Stephen King said, “Your first draft is going to be horrible, but you got to get it out”.

You have to get that first draft out of your head and onto paper. If you don’t have your first draft you have nothing – you just have an idea.

A book idea does not impact lives. A book idea does not earn royalties. A book idea does not bring you more business. In order to get that idea into a published form, you have to first get that first draft.

Outline Your First Draft

I want you to think about that. Your first draft is not your final draft. Do not feel like it has to be polished, edited, or fully annotated. I actually recommend that you write without editing.

The process that I teach in Author Audience Academy is to first outline, brainstorm, and outline. Then once you have your outline, start writing. When you’re writing, don’t be editing at the same time. You are writing that first draft. You’re just getting it out.

Sure, you may occasionally go back and re-read a few things, but really focus on getting the content out. Then, have a process for self-editing.

When you go through the process of self-editing, there are four or five different options that I suggest to you in the training in Author Audience Academy for self-editing. Then, you’ll go through your first draft and you’ll start self-editing.

You’ll start the self-editing process, and it will start to become more refined. You may pass through your first draft four times doing different forms of self-editing. Then and only then, are you going to be sending it to someone else.

So, nobody is going to see that very first draft because you’re going to go through a bunch of self-editing afterward. You will self-edit it to the point where you’re either going to send it to proofreaders, your professional editor and after that potentially have proof readers or beta readers. Usually, I just recommend a professional editor

My entire system is inside Author Audience Academy. We’d love to have you join us if you’re not already a member. If you are a member that system is inside the Publish module.

Things to Remember When Writing

The first thing when you’re writing is just thinking about getting it on paper. It’s a very first rough draft so no one else is going to see that. It’s not meant to be a final draft. So, don’t be really editing as you’re writing.

The second thing is, don’t lose the flow of writing to go and research. When you’re writing your first draft you’re going to maybe think of things like, “I need to look up this quote, this statistic,” or, “I need to add a reference to this thing.”

Flag it. When you’re writing, you want to stay in the flow of writing. So flag it, either with a post it notes, highlighter, or something. Flag it to research it later. What I love to do is batch tasks.

This is the same concept with writing. Right now, when you’re writing your first draft, you’re writing your first draft. You’re not editing, you’re not researching, you’re not annotating, and you’re not doing anything else. You are just writing.

Have a system, whatever works best for you. Flag that, and then in a chunk of time later, do all your research. Look up all those things, and batch that task. When you have the first draft complete, set aside a time to do self-editing. Batch that task. What happens is you get in the flow.

It’s like this. It’s as if you’re driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour and you stop. You start going again, get up to 70 miles an hour, and then you stop. 70 miles an hour, then stop.

It’s hard to get anywhere when you keep changing tasks. When you’re stopping, changing a task, then getting back to 70 miles an hour, you go back to zero. Your brain has to keep switching tasks.

That’s true even with your work. So, if you’re switching tabs all the time, your brain is always having to change gears. When that happens, it can take longer to do something than just staying with one thing, getting it done, then moving onto the next thing.

There is a lot of research behind this. If you can just stay in the flow of one particular type of task, you’ll be able to get it done a lot faster. And then you’ll be able to actually get your book done! Yeah!

Several people finished their first drafts – rough drafts – on our virtual writing retreat. They got it done, got it out of their head and onto paper.

I’m not saying this particular system will work perfectly for everyone. You have to find the system that is going to work best for you. I have a free 7-day writing challenge called There, I help you find the different types of circumstances that are going to help you write your best.

Now, it’s going to be different for everyone. Don’t try to shove a round peg into a square hole. I’m not trying to say that everyone is going to be exactly the same. You’re unique, you’re different, and your circumstances are different.

Maybe it is going to work better if you do some self-editing along the way. One of the virtual writing retreat attendees said, “I think that’s kind of how I work best.”

I don’t know how you work best. All I’m saying is why not give this a try and see how it works?

Turn off the editor’s brain, turn off the perfectionist mindset, the over thinking, and simply sit down. Get that rough draft out of your head and onto paper. Just get it done.

Details, Details, Details

The other thing that came up during the virtual writing retreat is that I believe that it is much easier to write when you have a detailed outline. I think the more detailed your outline is, the less writer’s block you’re going to have.

This way, you know exactly what you’re going to write about next. If you’re having trouble just sitting down thinking, “What am I going to write next?”

Maybe you need to take a chunk of time and really outline your book. Remember, we’re talking about batching tasks. That means outlining your chapter titles, and outlining what’s going to be included in each chapter.

You have to outline what’s the content, what story you are going to tell, what research you’re going to use to back it up, and what technique you’re going to teach. Those types of things.

If you want help with that, that’s something I teach in my Book Writing Formulas webinar. You can take that webinar for free at The more detailed your outline is, the more it can help you, even if you aren’t an outlining type person.

It can guide you to what you’re going to write. Maybe you don’t do the entire outline in one sitting. But you just sit down and outline the next chapter in more detail before you start writing. You get that detailed outline for that one chapter. Then you know where you’re going to go, you know what you’re going to write about, and you can just write.

I hope that this has helped you. Did you have any “ah-ha” moments? Was there anything that you thought, “I’m going to try this,” or, “Thanks for reminding me about this Shelley”?

If so just let me know in the comments.

New Team Member at Author Audience Academy

We finished the virtual writing retreat off with a bang. And as a bonus, I have an Author Audience Academy member who is going to be coming on as a new team member. I have a team now that is helping me serve you inside Author Audience Academy.

She is going to start hosting mini writing retreats. She is starting in July and August this summer and they are going to be in the evenings and weekends.

We also have our Writer’s block parties every month. It works. It just works. The last two days people got so much done, there was breakthrough after breakthrough.

I don’t have it in front of me, but several people said, “I got unstuck! I was stuck in writing my book and I got unstuck.” The power of praying for each other, and writing together, there’s accountability.

We used the Pomodoro technique, which I teach you in We’d love to have you join us. We have a ton of different things that just serve you inside Author Audience Academy, to help you get your book done.

We have accountability calls every week, my team member Kim Steadman hosts those. Rebecca Livermore hosts the Writer’s Block Parties, and Jennie Wise is our moderator in our Facebook group.

I’m also available to answer questions every day. We’re here for you if you need help, or if you’re stuck. Or if you just want to be amongst other Christian authors and have that community and excitement, come and join us. It’s at

If you have tips, or other things, that you would love to share, be sure to share those in the comments.

Until next time!

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