All first drafts are bad drafts (and that’s what makes them good)

Giles Turnbull

The myth of the perfect draft permeates bureaucracies. The elegantly phrased analysis, the perfect bon mot are badges of honour. But the final detailed expression of an idea or an argument is, in some ways, the least important thing about it – it is the idea and the argument which matter. A rich ecosystem of ideas is more powerful than an arid landscape of perfected prose.

This post is an elegantly drafted polemic against elegant drafting. It makes a powerful case that the process of editing and iterating – and of deleting and discarding – creates far more value both for the individual piece of writing and for supporting an environment in which good writing emerges than does the misguided attempt to jump directly to the finished product.

It’s an excellent and salutary post, but there is one important dimension which it skims over. Editing is a power relationship, in which HIPPOs often roam free. Authors can be offered suggestions but hear them (often rightly) as orders. The boundary between comment and instruction may be neither clear nor symmetrical.

All of which reinforces the conclusion in the post: creating a culture of drafting can unlock energy and value. The very necessary purpose of an editorial process is to improve on first drafts, not to crush them.

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