Let’s talk about failure, shall we? Failure can be a debilitating force, creating a fear that can cripple our progress, our growth, our curiosity. In our professional lives, a fear of failing can be a brick wall, standing in the way of good, courageous work. And, without the right tools or support, that wall of fear can be unsurmountable, impassable.
When I began my career, I was 22-years-old. Like so many others, I was fresh out of college, young, hungry, excited, and absolutely terrified to fail. I was petrified. Horrified that my new boss, teammates, or peers would discover that, at the mere age of 22, I had no clue what I was doing. That I had a million questions and no answers. I was primed to make mistakes—and a lot of them.
I was so afraid to fail, in fact, that I questioned my every decision. I worked slowly—too slowly for the quick world of marketing—agonizing over every word, every syllable because I was terrified of making the wrong choice. That fear grew in my belly, becoming a beast that ate away at my ambition and my creativity.
I was stuck, both feet in the mud. Stuck because I was afraid to fail.
This all changed when a mentor of mine introduced me to the concept of the FSD, or the First Shitty Draft. The FSD completely flipped my relationship with failure, and I encourage every writer, no matter how seasoned in their career, to give it a try.
What is a First Shitty Draft?!
Glad you asked. The First Shitty Draft is exactly what is sounds like: a first, likely not-very-good-maybe-pretty-shitty draft. It’s a step between an outline and first draft that gives the writer space to get their ideas out on the page without the fear of getting it wrong. In other words, this is a first-first draft.
Here’s why I love the First Shitty Draft:
- It takes the pressure off the writer, removing the expectation of perfection. Labeling your work as a First Shitty Draft, lets your reviewers know that what they’re about to see isn’t perfect or polished. And, it allows you, the writer, to control the expectations and set the scene for how you want your reviewers to understand and consume your work.
- Expounding on my first point, the FSD allows for better, more effective reviews. As every writer knows, reviews are tricky. Everyone comes to the table with different context, backgrounds, and expectations. This means that your reviewers are going to be looking for different things, providing all levels of feedback that you might not be ready for. The First Shitty Draft helps combat this by helping guide the reviewers to look at substance, not style. And this, in turn, helps the writer get the right level of feedback for where they are in their process.
- It invites more collaboration. The First Shitty Draft is a great opportunity to internally workshop your writing and gain unique perspectives that you might otherwise miss. This ultimately leads to a better, more impactful final product. But, perhaps, just as importantly, the FSD provides the opportunity for your entire internal team to align and invest in the work from the ground level. This means that, when you sell the work to your client, you can do so as a united front—which is always positive in our kind of work.
- Finally, the First Shitty Draft helps you work a whole lot faster. Remember before, when I talked about how my fear of failure was slowing my work? Well, the FSD battles that by allowing you to focus on getting it out rather than getting it perfect. Perfection and polish are for first and second drafts, not shitty ones. Additionally, the FSD helps you course correct a lot earlier than you would have otherwise, which means you can do a lot less rewriting (writers rejoice!)
For me, the FSD is a critical part of my process. It has made me a better writer, a stronger collaborator, and a more fearless person.
So, go ahead, and write a shitty draft. I promise you won’t regret it.