Carrying Hot Coffee? Writing A First Draft? Don’t Look.

My late, dear husband, was once a waiter. That’s how we met. He used to wink at me when I came to his restaurant for lunch.

Anyway, I once noticed how he could carry a full cup of steaming hot coffee across a room without spilling it. And he did it with absolute confidence.

“How do you do that?” I asked.

“What?” he replied.

“How do you carry that coffee without spilling it?”

“I don’t look at it.”

Carrying Coffee

Now, when I carried coffee, I always stopped and started trying not to spill it. It never worked.

My husband’s answer seemed too easy and I didn’t believe him. But I secretly resolved to try it. The next time I had a cup of hot coffee I took a deep breath, raised my eyes to where I wanted to go, and just walked.

I arrived at my destination without a drop of a spill.


My steady pace kept the liquid stable. My method of stopping and starting made it slosh around.

So what does this have to do with website tips? I’m not sure. I just thought it was a cool story and I’ve wanted to write a tip about it for years.

But I’ll try to make an analogy anyway.

Professional writing teacher Daphne Gray-Grant teaches writers to plow through a first draft without looking at it. She goes so far as to suggest turning off your monitor or hanging a towel over it while you write your first draft!

Her reasoning is that writing and editing are two very different tasks. That’s very true.

Of course, my coffee analogy seems to break down when applying it to writing web content. When you walk across a room with a cup of coffee, the coffee arrives ready to drink. When you write a first draft by not looking, it’s certainly not ready to publish.

We can still make the analogy fit if we acknowledge that the goal of no-look writing is to arrive at a first draft, not a final draft.

When it comes to turning out content consistently, getting that first draft created is incredibly important!

Can you think of any other areas of life where the no-look-coffee-carrying analogy would apply?

Easy Furniture Web Tip 248: Write the first draft of your web content without looking.


  1. Steve Bursten

    Kathy, your comment is a Bull’s Eye. I just attended a seminar by one of the leaders in bringing Six Sigma to the US. With Jack Welch at GE, an early adopter, I listened intently. I was struck by a point relevant to your discovery: Keep a steady course avoiding extremes. Your experience of steadiness proves Six Sigma can impact our lives when we know the principles.

  2. April

    The coffee-carrying concept also works for driving and learning to drive. In order to drive straight, you keep your eyes focused ahead of you, toward where you are going. If you look at the road and whatever is right in front of you – just like looking at the coffee you are carrying – you are unsafe, because you wiggle, waver and weave. Not that you aren’t aware of what is right in front of you,but you can’t drive straight down the road if that is continually your focus.

    Seems like there might be more lessons in that, if we chose to pursue it! Like keeping my eyes on God, instead of my immediate issues and problems, maybe?

    Hmmmmm… I hate it when things hit so close to home!

    • Katherine Andes

      Thanks, April. Yes, we can go deeper here, eh? I love the driving on the road analogy … we do have to look for potholes or obstacles on the road, but also keep an eye on the destination. The human being is wonderfully made that we can do so many things at the same time.

  3. H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.

    Writing “You and the Law,” a weekly syndicated newspaper column for over 30 years, I found the advice from Daphne Gray-Grant to border on the comical. Simply banging away on the keyboard is no way to write. You need to “look at the coffee” as it is sloshing around on your monitor. This helps you get a feeling for your product. How does it “taste?” Is there momentum, or have you merely created several disjointed paragraphs?

    Writing and editing aren’t separate functions. I edit as I write, looking for common errors, such as using the same words over and over and over and over again in the same paragraph. If something “sounds” odd, I fix it. Read aloud what you’ve written. How does it sound? How will it sound to your readers? Good writing maintains attention, readers curious as to what comes next.

    • Katherine Andes

      Thanks, Dennis, for your comments. Writing is very personal. I also edit a fair amount when I write, but for folks who get stuck, just getting through that first draft without editing can be very helpful. I always enjoy your weekly columns.

  4. I really liked this. It is so true that when writ ng copy or long range plan start by just writing and don’t focus on the details. It is the theory of brainstorming too. It does work

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