How To Write Your First Draft (The Vomit Draft Method)
What we’ve found working with thousands of authors is that almost all of them know how to write out their ideas. What they need most is what we’ve already gone over: defined book positioning, and a clear book plan. From there, the writing itself is easy.
Where problems arise is in the mindset around writing. Let’s talk about that.
Give Yourself Permission to Write a Mediocre First Draft
This is a simple thing, but one that most people skip:
Give yourself permission to write a mediocre first draft.
Most beginning authors have this notion that professional writers put out amazing first drafts, or that their first draft has to be really good.
That is nonsense.
I can tell you, as a professional writer who has written multiple New York Times Bestsellers, my first drafts are utter garbage. Worse than mediocre. They are terrible.
But that doesn’t bother me because I know I can edit them until they are not terrible. The Barbara Kingsolver quote tells it all:
“1. To begin, give yourself permission to write a bad book.
2. Revise until it’s not a bad book.”
The Wonders of the “Vomit Draft”
Many people struggle with giving themselves permission to write a mediocre first draft, so we developed a concept called the “vomit draft.”
We literally call the first draft the “vomit draft.” This is because when you’re vomiting, you don’t care about looking beautiful or being elegant. When you’re vomiting, you just want to get it all out, because that’s the only way to get it over with. And the only way to get it all out is to keep going through the pain.
What’s cool about the vomit draft is, unlike vomiting in front of people, your vomit draft is ONLY for you. You are the only person who will ever see it, and you will edit this before even your editor sees it.
By focusing on just getting it out, it stops you from reading and editing as you go, which inevitably slows you down and stalls you.
When you write something you think is garbage, just say, “That’s a problem for Future Tucker!” and keep moving.
Write Your Vomit Draft Without Stopping To Edit
This might be the most important advice in this book, so pay attention:
Write your vomit draft as quickly as possible. Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Move forward without looking back until your vomit draft is done.
Let me repeat that and break it down to be very clear and sure you got it:
Write your vomit draft as quickly as possible.
DO NOT STOP TO READ IT.
DO NOT EDIT.
MOVE FORWARD UNTIL YOUR VOMIT DRAFT IS DONE.
I cannot be more serious or literal about this.
In fact, I want you to say this out loud, right now:
“I will not edit my vomit draft until I am done writing it.”
The quickest way to derail a vomit draft is to start editing before you finish. I don’t care who you are—if you start editing your vomit draft, you WILL get stuck.
If you edit during the vomit draft stage, the best case scenario is you double the amount of time it takes to write the book.
Why Does This Work?
Using the Vomit Draft Method does two things:
- It suspends your self-judgment.
- Creates momentum through daily victories (getting 250 words per day and celebrating that adds up and reframes how you see yourself)
If you edit as you write, it totally derails your book. The bully in your brain, the part of you that is ridiculously hard on yourself, will start to second-guess you and shame you and will, at best, slow you down—if not kill your motivation altogether.
If you think something is terrible and you hate it, that’s fine. Use the “comment” function to highlight it and say “This is your problem, Future Tucker” and then move on. You’ll get to it later.
I’m going to say this again: the vomit draft is for you. NO ONE but you will ever read it but you.
Once you start editing (which I will explain how to do next), that is when you focus on what people will think. The parts of yourself that want to edit as you go—the perfectionist, the self-critical part—that is a great editor, but a terrible writer. Put it away until the vomit draft is done.
Finding Your Voice
For some reason, when it comes time to writing, lots of authors become obsessed with “finding their voice.”
I’ll often tease authors and ask them things like, “Hey, did you look behind your sofa? Your voice might be there.”
The joke is silly but the point is right—you don’t “find” your voice outside of yourself. Your voice is already a part of who you are. Your job as an author is to get out of the way and let it out.
The second thing authors do wrong, is try to mimic a voice. You can’t be Malcolm Gladwell, you can only be you, so don’t try to be.
So how to do you make sure it’s your voice in your book? There are two frames we recommend authors take:
Voice Frame #1: Conversation with a friend
This is the most common mental frame that our authors use. When they sit down to write, they envision themselves talking to a friend.
This is literally the frame I used to write this section—I pretended to explain this to a friend of mine.
Getting in that state of mind does several things:
- It relieves any anxiety, because this is just a conversation with friends.
- It helps keep my focus on the listener, because they’re a friend and I want to be attentive to them.
- It helps me stay centered on providing value to the listener, because in a teaching-style conversation, I am only
- thinking about what the other person is learning and taking in.
- It helps me keep momentum and motivation, because I want to make sure I am always helpful to my friend.
John Steinbeck says it best:
“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
Voice Frame #2: Help a stranger heal the same pain you had
This is very similar to the “conversation with a friend” frame, but it is also different in a few ways. If you envision yourself helping a stranger solve a painful problem, you do these things:
- You make it much easier to be brave in your writing and get past any fear or anxiety, because you are focused on their pain.
- You focus on specific and actionable information, which will make your book better and more meaningful to your readers.
- It helps you keep momentum and motivation, because you are focused on alleviating their pain.
Uber Cool Trick: Combine the two. If you envision yourself talking to a friend AND helping them through something difficult you’ve already done, that might be the best of both worlds.
Both of these methods allow you to get out of your own way and let your voice come through naturally.
Because you aren’t actually thinking about voice. You are focused on the reader. Focusing on the reader, rather than on yourself, is a superpower technique you can use at every stage to create an effective, successful book.
Don’t worry about being a writer, just help people, and your voice will take care of itself.
How do you maintain energy?
Most authors who ask about “energy” are really asking about something else. This is generally fear or anxiety taking another form. Go look at the fear chapter for reminders on how to deal with that.
That being said, the most important aspect of energy is maintaining a baseline of self care, and then having a schedule and sticking to it. If you do those two things, you’ll generate and protect most of your energy levels.
How do you beat procrastination?
Like almost everything that stops you from sitting down and writing, procrastination is a symptom of fear in another form.
If you find yourself procrastinating, then ask yourself if you believe in your plan and your outline. Sometimes procrastination is your subconscious telling you that something is wrong with your plan.
Look at your plan for your book again. Examine it, and ask yourself if you believe in each section. If you don’t, then fix wherever you see a problem and you should be good.
Also, another great way to beat procrastination is to use public accountability. When you are lagging on your book, post about it, and that will help you get support and make sure you find the will to keep going.
Should you write sequentially?
For most authors, you’re better off going sequentially unless you get stuck. If you get stuck, leave it, and go to the next place you can pick up. Fill in holes later.
How long should your book be?
We tell our authors that their book should be as short as possible, without leaving anything out.
You should not write thinking about length, but you should remember to keep your book as short and focused as possible. Shorter books are much better. They sell better, they are more read, more engaged, and more impactful.
The data we have on this is very clear: books under 100 pages don’t sell as well (lower perception of value), books between 100 and 199 pages sell the best, books between 200 and 299 pages sell almost as well as the ones in the hundreds, and books over 300 pages sell the least (that length is a big investment of time).
As a rule of thumb, you can assume about 200 words per printed page, so 100-199 pages is 20k-40k words.
Don’t Use Jargon
Make sure your voice is accessible, and not full of needless jargon.
If you find yourself wanting to use jargon, go back to your ideal reader, and ask yourself, “Will they understand this? Is this necessary to effectively communicate with them?”
Now, if your audience likes jargon and wants to hear that in a book addressed to them, then use it. Just make sure it’s appropriate to your audience.
Typing vs. Writing By Hand
This is not going to be the right choice for everyone, but it is a valid choice you can absolutely make: instead of typing your vomit draft out, you can write it out by hand.
For some people, this works really, really well. It provides these benefits:
- Stops them from going back and editing, because that process is now so difficult.
- Makes it easier for them to get in the flow, and just surrender to the writing process.
- For some people, the hand writing is a cleaner cognitive connection to the ideas than typing. This is NOT true for all people, but definitely for some.
This author sums up the benefits to her well: