It’s very satisfying to finish the first draft of a report. ‘It’s done!’ you proclaim as you quickly email it to your manager. But is that draft really the masterpiece you think it is?
At Concise Writing Consultancy, we frequently speak to frustrated managers who are spending too much time editing their team members’ reports. Sometimes this is a symptom of a team member’s poor writing skills. Often, it’s because the team member has submitted a first draft genuinely believing it’s close to the finished product, when actually it’s not.
The misguided glow of achievement
When we reread our work immediately after we have ‘finished’ writing it, we may think it looks pretty good. We perceive that it flows well and we think we have chosen the right words. However, if we put that same piece of writing aside and come back to it the next day, or in a week or even after several months, we will view it quite differently. We may believe it’s not even our work.
Journalists need to write on the go. News can become out of date within hours or even minutes of publication. Journalists are trained to write in a certain style under high-pressure conditions. Writing a complex report, or a policy or procedure, is a different matter. There could be serious ramifications if these types of communications are not written clearly and carefully. Even emails will benefit from being put aside for 15 minutes before rechecking and sending. This is particularly important for sensitive emails, when responding to a complaint, or during times of crisis.
The benefits of marinating your words
It’s Friday and I have just finished a plain English rewrite of a 30-page procedure manual for a client. Much as I’m tempted to email it by close of business today and impress the client with my speed and efficiency, I will resist this temptation. The client will not look at the manual over the weekend and those two days away from my computer will allow the words to marinate. This will make a world of difference to the quality of my work.
I will revisit the copy on Monday morning. After having a break over the weekend, I will not only be less tired than at the end of a challenging week, I will also be looking at the manual with fresh eyes. I can guarantee that I will find sentences that are not concise enough, words that I’ve repeated unnecessarily and typos that I’ve missed. I will probably find some repetition that I’ve overlooked and some sections that could flow better.
It’s these elements that are difficult to see when you finish your first draft. Leaving your words to marinate is all you need to get some perspective. You may even find solutions to writing problems you were previously stuck on.
The paradox of down time
This ‘down time’ between drafts does need to be planned for. If you’re a procrastinator and leave the writing task to the last minute, or you have been given an unrealistic deadline, you will be robbed of this opportunity. The longer and more complex the writing project, the more drafts you are likely to need. To allow for down time you may need to extend your deadline. But allowing even a small amount of time to marinate your work, will not only lead to a better result, you are likely to need fewer drafts overall. This is because you will be working more efficiently and effectively in the way you produce each draft.