Drafts: Zero to Three

The client was terse. “Your copy did not hit the mark, I will write the copy myself.” And she did. I suppose she was unhappy because the first draft didn’t mimic her own ideas. Or maybe she had forgotten my request that a first draft would be a start, and her feedback would be a way to get to the heart of the matter.

page1“If you can’t get it right the first time, you aren’t much of a writer,” she said. I thought about how that would look if we applied it to the rest of life.

To a toddler: “Just one step? If you don’t get up and run 26 miles, you aren’t much of a marathoner.”

To a calf: “You are still drinking milk? If you can’t produce milk yourself, you aren’t much of a cow.”

To a seedling: “Just one leaf? If you can’t produce an apple, you aren’t much of a tree.”

Writing is an art of iteration. Of drafts. Of writing long and cutting it down. I’ve never seen a first draft that was perfect. I’ve seen lots that aren’t very good but that get better with each draft. It’s funny that clients think that if you need more than one try, you aren’t talented.  Thomas Edison tried 6,000 different materials until he found one that worked as a light bulb filament. James Michener’s boss told him to quit thinking he was a writer, instead, he should keep his eye on doing his job as an editor or he’d be fired. This was months before Michener won the Pulitzer Prize for South Pacific. He went on to write 40 other titles, including Hawaii, Chesapeake, and The Drifters. Each one went through several drafts.

Julia Child cut up piles of onions before she felt competent wielding a knife. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had been flying airplanes for more than 30 years before he put the U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson so that all 150 passengers could stay alive. Bet he couldn’t have done that the first time he stepped into a plane.

So, alas, I lost a customer. I did not shed a tear or spend more than two deep breaths mourning the loss. Good writing takes drafts. Good writing takes cutting and feedback. And if you don’t think it does, you’re getting bad copy.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and coach. She has a practice and loves practicing.