Once upon a time, I had a great deal of trouble getting words on a page. I would sit and ponder the blank page for hours, days, and weeks before I could get anything down. Often, I’d think and think and think about a thing I wanted to write and then I’d never actually write it at all, because I was so frozen by the pressure I placed on myself to get it down exactly as I wanted it to be on the first try.
Then, some years ago, I discovered the concept of the spew draft. It does not sound overly pleasant, but the concept is liberating: a draft of your written work in which you ‘spew’ everything you’re thinking onto the page, with the intention of fixing it later. The spew draft does not need to be anywhere near perfect. It can be a jumble of dot points and seemingly random paragraphs or phrases. The spew draft should be stream-of-consciousness, wild ideas, and incomprehensible babble. It only ever needs to make sense (some sense) to you.
It’s possible the spew draft works well for me because I think best when I’m writing. It certainly clarifies things for me when I write out what’s going on in my head, to the best of my ability. Usually it helps me to see which parts of what I’ve been thinking don’t belong in the final piece. After a few months of using the spew draft approach to get started, I realised I actually need to write out the half-formed and sometimes nonsensical things in my head in order to make room for clarity.
The spew draft’s other major strength, as I see it, is that it is humbling: it undercuts the often grandiose ideas we have about what our writing should look like. I don’t know about you, but the vast majority of thoughts in my head are definitely not going to win any prizes. In the spew draft, there’s no attempt at beauty or perfection. Sometimes it has flashes of brilliance, but most of it is just going to be deleted or saved in a deep dark folder you’ll never look at again. The great Cheryl Strayed once advised a young writer to work from a place of humility and surrender. Grandiosity is the enemy of getting the work done. The spew draft eats grandiosity for breakfast, and reveals what really needs to be said.
Image credit: Paula Rosenstengel, Sketch of an interior view of a study, State Library of Queensland.