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  • Writer's pictureKate Armstrong

How Thinking About Drafting As “Shoveling Sand” Can Make You a More Productive Writer


With over thirty published books, Shannon Hale is an impressively prolific author. Her Kitty Corn series and Princess in Black books are favorites in my household! She’s also written some incredible essays about gender and reading (all of which are available on her website, https://shannonhale.com). What I’m writing about today, however, is her take on writing first drafts.


Way back in 2015, Hale tweeted, “I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”


Hale’s understanding of first drafts is twofold in its brilliance. First, it’s such a freeing way of thinking! And second, it’s an effective way of thinking! Understanding writing a draft as a two-part process can help you stay motivated to write and make you feel more accomplished each time you do it.


For many writers—particularly neurodivergent writers—getting a manuscript from the brain to the page can be a bit like using a funnel. At the top of the funnel you have ideas, grammar, spelling, organization, and story elements like arcs and characterization. And that's not an exhaustive list! At the bottom, you have a tidy, well-written sentence (and eventually a tidy, well-written manuscript). Add in a little perfectionism or fear of judgment at the top of the funnel, and it’s easy to see how drafting can be slow going, if not paralyzing.


Picture it like this:



Thinking of writing your first draft as “shoveling sand,” allows you to separate the ideas from the writing conventions. Get your ideas all out on paper, and you can add in the grammar, spelling, organization and finesse later. It’s a lot easier to sit down and start writing when you can just let go and put words on the page, rather than worrying from the beginning about choosing every word wisely and crafting every sentence perfectly.


Shovel in the sand now, build the sand castles later.


The beauty of writing as an adult (as opposed to as a student), is that you can even call in reinforcements (aka editors!) if you’d like some assistance crafting your castles.

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