The Art of Suspending Judgement during the First Draft

typewritersIf there is one thing that puts me in a writing “analysis paralysis”, it’s to be editing a first draft at the same time as I am writing it. What seems to work for me is to metaphorically send the “editor” part of my brain away to another room in the house and to let the creative writer in me just do his thing.

The first draft is that time when I feel completely free, knowing that the incompatible elements will drop off later if they are not meant to be. But the critical first step is to get those ideas on paper and to not break the flow.

Even in business, suspending judgement is a key ground rule for a great brainstorming session. In writing, I like to think that this translates to leaving the editor’s hat alone until a solid foundation of ideas is established.

Only then is it realistic to determine whether ideas are viable, to rearrange the order in which the ideas are presented and finding the best ways to articulate them.

Viability of ideas

With my blog, there have been times that I thought I had a dynamite idea for a blog topic, but after a few writing sessions, I found out that the idea lost momentum or fizzled out after 300 words. Most times, I would park it to see if other ideas might hit me later, but when they don’t, it may just end up in the graveyard of blog posts. The topic still seemed like a good idea in my head, but after trying to work through it on paper, it didn’t quite make it.

It’s a little like rearranging a room’s furniture in one’s head. At first it may seem like a good idea, but only after we have actually done it do we know if the end result feels right. As a result, we either decide to leave it there and make adjustments for a few weeks or we decide change it back.

But the point is that I have to wholeheartedly put the writer in the driver’s seat, to trust him, and to ask the editor to take a hike. The editor is always there to always do his job later, but the ideas need to be out of my head and on paper to make any kind of judgement call on viability.

The bonus is that there have been times that in the unedited brainstorming, outlandish ideas have unexpectedly joined the party and led me down a path that did not originally occur to me. I love those surprise twists!

I look upon those as pleasant surprises and gifts as they are responsible for the forks in the road for the writer and potentially, the reader. That first draft is the opportunity to explore and map out where each path goes. Once the ideas are thoroughly mapped out, in the editing phase, I can then compare to determine which ones shine and add the most value to the story line.

Order of ideas

I hate to admit that my brain is not terribly linear when it comes to writing. Ideas show up day or night, in various forms, and of course, never in the right order. But to me, that is fine. As long as I harness every tool I have to capture the ideas, whether that be a journal, a scrap of paper, index cards or the Notes function on my iPad, I try not to rearrange the ideas until I am well into the editing process.

It is very much like a jigsaw puzzle, but I prefer to have as many of the ideas articulated as fully as possible, to be able to determine the logical flow of the “reveal”.

Different ways to express ideas

To me, the first draft is also the ideal time to play with different ways of expressing a thought or sentiment. When the viable idea is on paper but doesn’t seem to carry much punch, I open another blank document or get another sheet of paper and brainstorm 5, 10 or 20 different ways to say the same thing.

Sometimes the perfect sentence, the one that makes a reader laugh, cry, scream, shake with fear or all of the above, will be a composite, containing elements from several different formulations.

Either way, it is much easier to do that when I have a sheet full of ideas to work from, not just the ones floating around in the neurons.


I completely accept that ideas in their raw form in the original draft are never perfection. I accept it, I own it and I love the potential that goes with it. The unstructured play time of the draft process, to me, is the fun time to let my creativity soar.

It takes practice to isolate the writer and the editor, but keeping them separate seems to help maintain harmony in the initial flow of ideas.

The knowledge that I will devote as much time to editing as I will to the writing, in a very separate process, is extremely liberating and a huge incentive to explore and play. Suspending judgement during the first draft allows me to experience the piece as a spectator, just like any other reader.

I also find it allows me to feel the writing process more fully, to savour every moment and to feel as much gratitude when ideas flow freely as I do when the piece is complete.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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