Write the Messy First Draft

CK Kochis

Episode #011

Cindy Kochis, Pen to Paper Press Podcast host

“ The shitty first draft is an important part of the writing process of applying content to the blank document. It’s the creative stuff we build the strong foundation with. All those deleted words, sentences, paragraphs and even chapters served a purpose. They moved the story in one way or another. ”

– Cindy Kochis


Today I want to talk to you about writing a shitty first draft.

For many of us, the seed to our book was planted in the form of a journal entry. It felt good to express that bit of information and next thing we know it transforms into blog post, and then into a series. At some point a reader shares with you, “This would make a great book!” You realize, yeah, yes it would.

This is how many memoirs, books based on a personal experiences, and self-help books grow into fruition. Of course not all books begin this way.

The writing process is as unique to each person as it is with each book. It is truly an intimate process of connecting with Self. Some people do a tremendous amount of research on a topic while others tune in and tap in and channel the content from their heart source. Some writers will create an outline of how they foresee the flow of the content while other sit down in front of a computer monitor and allow their fingers to tap dance across the keyboard with anticipation of what will appear. Which ever process feels natural to you, do it that way.

When we are writing the first draft, it’s easy to focus on moving the pen across the journal pages or rhythmically tap dancing our fingers across a keyboard. We are, at that point, not as concerned with making sure the setting brings the reader into the same headspace we’re in because we are in the exploratory stages of the book. We are getting the content on paper as it appears in our imagination. This can be the daunting part of writing for those with perfectionist tendencies.

In the interviews leading up to this episode, I naturally found myself wanting to learn about their writing process and give the listeners a peak into their world. You know, so the audience can see – hear the proof – there is no right or wrong way to write a book. This process is solely individual. And, it’s different from one book to another. There’s a lot of people out there instructing people that this is how to write a book. To me, that builds up a lot of anxiety and creates unnecessary insecurities and worries of “Am I doing this right?” “Is this why I can’t seem to finish that book?” “I’m doing it all wrong!” They toss their hands in the air and quit. They can’t seem to get it right so they think what’s the point?

Truly, you cannot get it wrong and there is no set time frame to complete a first draft, or even publishing it. There’s a reason for the delay in writing the first draft. First, you may have to go through whatever it was you needed to experience in order to share the wisdom and event. I’m finding that’s the case with the memoir I’m writing. I’ve bumped up against a wall and what I slap on the pages doesn’t move the story. So, I’ve allowed myself to pause on writing that particular book. Allowing our self the permission to pause is a precious gift. It releases the pressure of the inner critic that’s pushing us with to get it done.

Which brings me to something I find myself stating often, “The first draft is going to be shitty.” It is going to be messy. Every writer dreams of the day when they sit down to their writing apparatus and a best-selling novel appears on the pages without needing any editing. Oh, wouldn’t that be marvelous?! The shitty first draft is an important part of the writing process of applying content to the blank document. It’s the creative stuff we build the strong foundation with. All those deleted words, sentences, paragraphs and even chapters served a purpose. They moved the story in one way or another.

When a writers finds themselves stuck, or for the individual who wants to write but not sure where to start, my response is rather simple. Write about what’s on your mind, or use journal prompts. Consider it the icebreaker to starting a conversation with a person you have a desire to meet. If need be, begin with, “Hey there. What’s your sign? Do you come here often?” Then, allow your character to talk to you and note their physical response to your questions. That content will not be the focal point of the book per se’ but the backstory, time period, and by setting the scene this could in fact spark an aspect of learning more about you character. Take notes. What do you see in your mind’s eye? What color is their hair and eyes? What are they wearing? How are they standing? Do they have good posture or do they slouch? Describe the environment. Are you in the city, country, or small village? Approximately what year is it? What are their questions? What are they seeking answers to? This is the perfect time to get those details on paper.

Will the scenery and their appearances change mid way through the first draft? Sure. Maybe. Good chance it’ll happen. The plot might shift a time or two. And, you know what, that’s okay. Is this common in each first draft? Yes. No. Maybe. Depends on the person and where they are on their own journey.

The first draft is a field of possibilities you come up with when you allow your imagination room to, well, be imaginative. This is also the brain-dump period. It’s when we experience the story for the first time and collect data. Sometimes the intent is simply to move the pen across the page to get to the pearls of wisdom waiting to be discovered. So, in short, allow the first draft to be messy.

This is a great time to bring up outlines. Some individuals refer to outlines as the roadmap, a guide, compass, or the character’s journey. And, others consider it too constrictive. Again, this is a personal preference thing. Do what feels best for you.

An outline is especially helpful if you are writing a how-to or non-fiction. It a great tool for keeping events in chronological order. It is a way to move sequentially through the content to get the reader from point A to B, then to plot twist at point C and the conclusion at point D, for example.

I know writers that use outlines to keep themselves on track and with the intent to make the editing process easier. These writers feel they are saving time since they are not busy trying to find the plot, the purpose of the story, or the overall message in the jungle of crabgrass and ivy growing within the paragraphs. Although, hunting down the plot and storyline is not a waste of time. A dear friend who had a strict outline found her story took on entirely different direction when she granted herself the flexibility to explore what was filling her imagination. She admits that version is much better than she could have hoped for. A key element I must state is, those who free-write have a good idea of the purpose, the plot, and the events to be shared between the opening line to the words “the end” appear on the last page. I am not saying people who use outlines won’t have to cross out sections of their book with a red ink pen. They will. We all do no matter the technique.

As an example, when I wrote UnLeash Your Story: A Journal Writer’s Guidebook, I had an outline. Several of the fiction novels that I have started, none of them have an outline. I, in my mind’s eye, have an idea of how the book will progress. I love witnessing the characters take me on their journey through the words I write. In regard to the book I’m writing about my soul’s journey, how can I plot that out? For one, I’m evidently still on the journey. I continue my routine of pouring myself a mug of tea first thing in the morning, climbing back in bed and put pen to paper noting the various events I’ve experienced and random bit of information I’ve learned along the way. I have years worth of journal entries to refer back to. When I do sit down to the laptop, I either refer to the journals or simply write what I feel in the moment.

Sometimes the hardest sentence to write is the first one. The pressure to write the brilliant first line, the one that captures the audience’s attention and draws them in, is another hurdle for writers to jump over. With the first draft, if it helps you, assume the first line will be crossed out with a red ink pen. I remember a time when I’d use the line from Snoopy as he sat upon his dog house with the typewriter, “It was a dark and stormy night…” Sounds cheesy, but it worked. I’d also call up my sister, and ask, “Give me a first line.” I wrote some pretty interesting short stories from those prompts. Journal prompts are great, too. Whatever it takes to get the first line on the pages.

Like most writers, I have boxes or computer files or both with various books that will remain unfinished or have the label Needs Massive Editing stamped on the inside cover. I do have several of those. When it came to writing one novel in particular that will not see a printer’s press until it goes through a major gutting and overhaul, I would sit in front of my computer monitor and let my imagination orchestrate the finger tap dance on the keyboard. No journal entries, no notes, no outline. I simply dictated what I witnessed in my mind’s eye as it played out.

Editing is a process of fine tuning, getting rid of the content that doesn’t move the story. However, it was necessary in moving the writer to the next important element within the storyline that they may have missed. I’ll spend more time on this topic in another podcast. Today, it’s all about getting the words on the pages and granting ourselves the permission to be creative and messy. And, to reinforce the importance of following your heart. If you were to pause for a bit and think of all the things you were inspired to do but didn’t for one reason or another, how would things be different for you? I know my life would be drab and boring if I had not followed that spark, and said yes to myself.

Back in May of 2016, I followed intuitive guidance and began publishing Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine, a digital publication that focused on the various elements for experiencing a sense of balance in on our life. There are plenty of timeless articles I hope never fade away. As the publisher of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine, I found myself encouraging the contributors to write from their heart. If the contributor didn’t know what to write about, I’d direct them to the suggested topics with the notation to write what came to them versus following the strict concept of this is the monthly topic and don’t you dare wander away from it. For some contributors this frustrated them. For other writers they loved the freedom to express their voice. Ironically, it amazing how the actual theme to the issue would naturally appear when I assemble to the articles onto the pages. To me, that’s intuitive writing and has a deeper impact on the reader. Why? It came from the heart. I’ve never been one to pack SEO content for rankings. I have a strong faith that the people who need to find my words will be led to them when the timing is perfect. We, as writers, have personal, organic messages to share. That’s where my focus is… what moves the writer moves the audience. Our articles, blog posts, and stories form communities.

You know, life’s events have a way of showing us our passions and heart’s desire.

The Pen to Paper Press Podcast was intuitively inspired, just like the magazine. I felt a calling from deep within to create a space for authors to give voice to their books, their writing process, the backstory to what led them to publishing the book, and, of course, to share their journey. I cannot express to you how honored I feel to have podcast guests join me in my virtual studio. If someone would have told me three years ago when I started this nomadic lifestyle I’d be recording interviews at the dining table of a camper that I can easily convert to a bed, I would have laughed and said, “Yeah. Right. Whatever.” But, yet, here we are! Life is an amazing adventure; it was never intended to be lived in gray-scale.

One of the sparks that illuminated the idea of hosting a podcast was from the Pen to Paper Writers Circle. It’s a creative space where writers meet to, well, write. We meet once a week via a video conference call. What I love about it is, we take the time to check in with each other. If one of us has a question, we discuss it. Thirty minutes of our 90 minute gathering is dedicated to writing. We mute our microphones, and turn off the video, and we write. There’s something so wonderful about writing in the same space as other writers, at our own desks miles apart. It just feels good. We, as writers, spend long periods of time isolated. Here, in this writers circle community, that sense of feeling disconnected or left out dissolves. It helps us to maintain a consistent writing schedule (even if it’s once a week), hold our self accountable and to learn from each other.

Since I’m mentioning the writers circle, I might as well tell you about the short and sweet writing programs I offer. At the time of this recording, I offer a 21-Day Writing Intensive several times a year and have two guided meditation programs available for writers to meet their characters. I am in the developmental process of expanding the list of programs. It’ll be interesting to see what I come up with.

The main message I wish to share is each of us has a unique story; an important story. Your words have power. Our story matters.

So back to my original question. Who am I? I’m a mom, a grandmother to three precious souls, a writer, a creative, a podcast host, blogger, a woman on a soul’s journey living the nomadic lifestyle, a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who transformed my education to the foundation of a website and digital magazine, a virtual assistant helping clients with their WordPress websites, copywriting and preparing their books for print, an editor, a writing coach, Willie James’ walking partner and companion, and so, so much more.

I have self-published two books. Get A Compass Not A Clock is a book of quotes I had written. The idea to publish it came when I inspired to finally remove the watch from my wrist, quit living by the hands on that small mobile clock, and to follow my heart. UnLeash Your Story: A Journal Writer’s Guidebook is a guidebook for journaling and includes 365 prompts to help motivate the pen across the page.

Well, it’s time to wrap up this episode of Pen to Paper Press Podcast. I would like to take a moment and say thank you for your listening. Mere words cannot express my gratitude. If you are a writer, editor, publisher or truly enjoy helping others with marketing their books, I would love to have you join me in the virtual studio to record our conversation. To find the complete list of podcast episodes, please visit pentopaperpress.com. This podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Listen Notes, TuneIn, YouTube, and many other podcast apps. Be sure to subscribe and share your favorite Pen to Paper Press Podcasts episodes. And, of course, leave us a comment. We love reading your take aways from our conversations.

Take care. Until next time – know that your words have power and your story matters. Bye for now!

Book Mentioned in Podcast:
Get A Compass Not A Clock
UnLeash Your Story: A Journal Writer’s Guidebook

21-Day Writing Intensive 
Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine Archives
Meet Your Characters Guided Meditation
Meet Your Characters: Get to Know Their Secrets Guided Meditation 
Pen to Paper Writers Circle

CK Kochis, INHC, is writer and multi-passionate entrepreneur. She is currently focusing her energies on hosting the Pen to Paper Press Podcast and guiding writers on their journey of developing the storylines and characters of the books they are writing.

Pen to Paper Press Podcast was created to help writers give voice to their books, writing process, backstory, and share their journey. She has recorded conversations with authors getting ready to publish their first book to a gentleman with his name on thirty-plus book covers to a memoirist to a digital magazine publisher and editor. Each of us has a unique story; an important story. She reminds listeners, “Your words have power. Our story matters.” 

Following her heart and intuitive guidance, Cindy published the first issue of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine, a digital publication focusing on the various elements of experiencing balance in on our life, in May 2016. Explore the magazine archives at elementsforahealthierlife.com/the-archives.

She shares her sass and transformational journey, along with pearls of wisdom, in her blog at ckkochis.com.

“Life is an amazing adventure; it was never intended to be lived in gray-scale.” – CK Kochis

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Podcast music by Joseph McDade

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