Delete The First Draft

An old post, Delete Your Backlog, advises agile teams to fearlessly delete things from their backlogs, with the expectation that the truly important stuff will find its way back.

This pattern works for writing, too.

Many times over the years, I’ve written lengthy drafts of posts and papers and lost them to my inept use of whatever tool I was using to write. (Most often web-based tools.) This doesn’t happen to me much anymore, but it does still happen to people all the time.

Good for them.

Good for them because the first draft is better for feeling your way through what you think and what you want to say than it is for saying the thing you ultimately want to say. But when we have a first draft sitting there, it’s tempting to call it a day. Make a change here or there, sure, but nothing big. Certainly nothing fundamental.

When you lose the first draft, what’s gone is cruft and structure. The good ideas are still there in your head. Like Delete Your Backlog says: “If you can’t remember it, it’s probably not that important. If it is important, it’ll probably find its way into your attention again.”

Ideally, your second draft won’t bring back the cruft and it’ll have its structure informed by the work of the first draft.