The Ugly First Draft: What You Need to Know

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Carla Tensuan

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If you’re a writer, you know all too well the importance of the first draft. Even though it may not seem like it, your first draft is the foundation of your work. It’s the first step in the writing process and can make or break the entire piece. That’s why it’s essential to get it right. But what is an ‘ugly first draft’? And why should you change your approach to writing it? In this blog post, we’ll explain what an ugly first draft is, why it matters, how to write it, and strategies for improving it.

What is an ‘ugly first draft’?

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An ugly first draft is a rough, incomplete draft of a piece of writing. It’s a messy, unstructured version of the final work and often contains many errors and inconsistencies. It’s not meant to be perfect, but it is a starting point for the writer to build upon. This draft is typically written quickly and without much thought or planning, and it often lacks the clarity of the final version.

The term’ ugly first draft’ was coined by author and professor Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. In the book, she explains that writing a bad first draft is the key to writing a successful work. Lamott argues that by getting the ugly first draft out of the way, you can focus on improving it during the revision process.

Why does the ugly first draft matter?

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The ugly first draft is an integral part of the writing process. It helps writers get their ideas out on paper and serves as a foundation for the rest of the final output. It also helps writers organize their thoughts. By writing a rough draft, writers can create a framework for the piece and identify areas that need improvement.

Additionally, the ugly first draft can serve as an invaluable step. Reviewing the draft allows writers to spot mistakes and make corrections before submitting their work. This can save them time and effort in the long term.

Finally, writing an ugly first draft can be a way to get started on a project. It helps writers overcome writer’s block and get their creative juices flowing. And, since it’s not meant to be perfect, it gives them the freedom to experiment and explore different ideas.

How do I write a rough draft?

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Writing a rough draft can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Start with a plan. Before you begin writing, take some time to plan your piece. Think about the structure, key points, and argument you’d like to make. This will help you stay focused and organized as you write.

Set a goal. Give yourself a daily writing quota, such as writing 500 words daily or finishing the draft in a week. Knowing your plan will help you stay motivated and on track.

Write quickly. Write freely and try to get your ideas down on paper. Don’t worry too much about grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The ugly first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes as you write as long as you jot down your thoughts. You can always revise your draft later.

What are the strategies for improving your first draft?

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Once you’ve written your rough draft, it’s time to start revising. Here are some strategies for improving that first draft:

Read it out loud. Reading your draft aloud can help you identify grammar errors and awkward sentences.

Take a break. Take some time away from your draft to clear your head and come back with a fresh perspective.

Look at it as a guide. Instead of writing the perfect first draft, focus on writing a good draft ripe for editing. This will help you stay focused and avoid getting bogged down by the pressure to write well.

Be patient. It may take some time, but with the right strategies in place, your first draft will eventually look better, and you will feel more comfortable writing.


Writing an ugly first draft is an integral part of the writing process. It is a starting point for the writer to build upon and can help them get their ideas on paper. Following the tips above, you can write an adequate draft and improve it during revisions.

So don’t be afraid to write an ugly first draft. It’s the first step to creating something great!

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About the author

Carla Tensuan is a freelance writer, editor, and communications specialist. She specializes in crafting creative copy, blog content, and press releases. She enjoys listening to podcasts, reading books, and practicing yoga in her free time. She lives with her husband in Manila, Philippines.