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Archive for November 17th, 2008

I used to think that if it wasn’t perfect on the first draft…I don’t know…that they would see what a FRAUD I was! I have since learned that it’s only a first draft.  It’s not meant to be perfect. You just need to give them something to react to.                                          LivelyExchange: “Waiting for It”

I have highlighted this bit of “wisdom” more than once. On one occasion, I amended it, saying: “Besides, in the act of critiquing the first draft the client just might actually, finally, tell you what he wants.”

I look back on these entries and see that words like “it doesn’t have to be perfect” leave some room for misinterpretation.  You may wonder…would a two-fisted hard-bitten excessively-hyphenated hired-gun writer like me ever just throw something against the wall in order to make deadline on a first draft?

ummm…no?

You were expecting a more emphatic answer, I’m sure.  Let’s say not lately. Not for a long while.  But I wouldn’t say Never.

In the past there have been projects that had been going on for months before I ever showed up. By the time I was hired, the client was really itchy to see something–no time even for a treatment. So I would bang out something I call a “pre-draft,” which is a safe little term meaning, “first draft that I am not terribly confident about.”  And, when I explain it that way, everything is fine. The client is relieved to see something, even if it is flawed.

Here’s the potential problem, though. You turn in the pre-draft. You speak on the phone with the marketing assistant, explaining the ins and outs and the caveats of the pre-draft. Unfortunately her boss, your client, is on the road for the next week. She prints it out and drops it on his desk. A week later he picks it up, having heard none of this pre-draft mumbo-jumbo, and blows his top over this incomplete, ill-considered piece of crap.

Another true scenario… I wrote a trade article about some forgotten topic. In a flash of inspiration, I knew how the thing should be structured. The thesis, the supporting points, the conclusion, it all just came to me after having done just a little bit of research. So I’m scribbling, I’m researching and the thing is taking shape. It’s almost done, but not quite. Then the client calls, wondering when they might see something. Somebody is heading out on a trip and would like a peek.  Hey, why not. It’s basically done, I just have to verify some statistics. I email the thing and…nothing. No response, no feedback. Days pass, and I begin to worry. I go to their website and, to my horror, I see the article. They loved it so much that they posted it immediately.  Fortunately, I quickly determined that my stats were correct, so I said nothing. But it was a scare that I never wanted to repeat. And I haven’t.

It comes down to this: is impressing the client with speed worth the potential embarrassment of submitting a rushed, incomplete draft?  To me, the little things that are out of your control, like those listed above, make it too risky. So, submit the best, most complete draft that you can.  The most compelling imagery, the smoothest flow, the most complete statistics, the sharpest closing, and so on. Even if it takes an extra day.

Why is so important? Will the client recognize your commitment to factual thoroughness and writing quality? Most likely they will not.

But you will.

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