Monday, 30 April 2012

Draft Zero: Where Writing Begins


Whether you’re a dedicated outliner or you wing it with no idea where your story might take you, the first complete draft you produce will have problems.

A lot of the time you will know a section isn't working before you even reach the end of the paragraph. Just not good enough. 

You can stop and fret and worry about how to make it better, or you can keep going.


Unless you are some kind of genius (and I’m going to assume you aren’t), there will be parts of your story that don’t satisfy you. For me these tend to be: weak endings, meandering middles, characters who spend too much time doing nothing, plot holes, scenes with predictable things happening in obvious fashion.

I can see these things immediately. I don’t need to wait for a third party to indicate where the problems are, I already know. Often there will be whole scenes missing where I know the sort of thing I want to happen, but no ideas how to write it, so I’ll put in a place-holder that says something like: Jack escapes from prison in a surprising way.

As soon as you get to the end of a first draft and have a complete story, the usual advice is to put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Get away from the words you’ve been spending all your time with. When you take it out again, you will do so with fresh eyes and a much better judgement.

This is very true, but this is not what I do. That first run from beginning to end never produces a solid manuscript (and I outline fairly extensively). Because my main focus is getting to the end as quickly as possible, I don’t bother pausing for corrections or improvements. Even if things clearly don’t work and definitely won’t make it to the final draft, I don’t care. Onwards!

Then, when I get to the end (a great moment no matter how crappy the draft), I immediately go back to the start and read it through marking up the spots that I ignored first time round. These sections get a bit more thinking time so that they feel more complete. They still might not be great, but they at least make sense.

The reason I do it this way is because if I don’t push myself to get through to the end I can easily get side-tracked into dwelling on a scene for days on end. But with a complete manuscript I have a much better idea of the story. Where it’s going, who it’s about. And then I have something to work from with the sections that were giving me trouble.

Until I have a manuscript I am willing to show other people, I don’t consider what I have to be even a first draft. It’s Draft Zero.

And the great thing about Draft Zero is that I fully accept it will be terrible. Absolutely awful. Huge chunks of it will be going straight in the shredder. And that takes off a lot of pressure. No one else will see it, nothing is set in stone, the process from there to a proper first draft will be nothing but improvements.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, giving yourself permission to write stuff that isn’t going to be good enough straight off, and being open to changes that make it better, is very important to the writing process. 
If you found this last post in the AtoZ Challenge (Yay!) to be of some interest, please give it a retweet. Cheers.

This is the end of my daily postings. From Thursday I will be returning to my twice-a-week schedule (Mondays and Thursdays). Thanks to all of you who have visited, commented or followed me this month. Hopefully some of you will stick with the blog. You can expect more of the same rambling nonsense about writing. 

Also, please check out The Funnily Enough were I collate articles from other blogs. I choose the best posts on the craft of writing from the hundreds of blogs I follow and put them in one convenient place (updated Mondays and Thursdays). Well worth bookmarking.

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37 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

They always say to wait, but I jump back in as soon as I finish. I claim that's because by the time I do finish, I don't remember how I began.

Patricia Lynne said...

I'm not one to skip over parts with a brief note. I have to do every chapter and scene in order otherwise it bugs me. That's just me though and my effort to get to the end of what I guess is my Draft Zero.

Jason Runnels said...

I used to beat myself up if I had trouble writing a scene or important part of my scene. But now I do the same thing you suggest. Lots of asterisks and highlighting to remind me to revisit that section later. It reminds me of that cartoon where the scientists are at the chalkboard writing out an equation..."then a miracle occurs". :-)

It's tough to keep going and leave something unfinished, but if you don't move on, you could be stuck in the mud with the draft forever.

mooderino said...

@Alex-I think it does help to wait for later drafts.

@Patricia-it is hard to resist that urge to keep fiddling.

@jason-I find inspiration doesn't come if you just wait for it, so better to use the time getting stuff done.

Francene Stanley said...

I'm just about to finish my first draft. I left the manuscript aside for the whole of April. I know where it's going but I'm not quite there yet. Tomorrow, writing will gain my full attention. I'll follow your blogs.


http://francene-wordstitcher.blogspot.com/

mooderino said...

@Francene-thanks, I'll follow yours.

Tara Tyler said...

so glad to know you! your posts are informative & fun! looking forward to getting back to routine

Yesenia said...

A good idea, Draft Zero. I think it's a good way to keep your momentum going and finish quicker than usual. I'll definitely keep this in mind (I plan on starting a novel really soon!). Great post.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I have problems/concerns with my beginnings and endings. To clarify, I find it difficult to begin a project and to end a book. The middle is a lot easier.

Lydia Kang said...

I'm the same. My first draft is never good enough for me to feel like I can walk away and leave it--after I've revised it at least once and it's beta-worthy, then do I leave it alone.

Vero said...

Great post, mood!

I don't know where you find the strength to run through your first draft without yielding to the temptation of editing, I'm certainly incapable of doing that.

Cheers for making it through the A to Z challenge, and very well at that! I'll stick around, no doubt. :)

LD Masterson said...

I love the idea of draft zero but I still struggle with the first draft. I'm always going back and fixing things as I write instead of pushing on to the end first.

mooderino said...

@Tara-you and me both!

@Yesenia-welcome to the wonderful world of novel writing. You'll find plenty of friendly support.


@Michael-I think the start and the end are the parts we're most conscious of needing something special.

@Lydia-I think it ends up saving time in the long run.


@Vero-cheers, hope to see you around.

@LD-it is tempting, but Push On!

Julie Daines said...

When I attended a workshop taught by author Martine Leavitt, she said there were several drafts involved before the first, or rough draft. I have to agree. It takes me quite a few times through before I feel like I've got something that is cohesive and presentable enough to be called a first draft. Yay for completing the A to Z.

Nate Wilson said...

I still call my unshareable draft #1, because otherwise I'd feel even worse about my (lack of) progress.

But I kind of like the connotation. You might notice some horrible writing or contrivance in a later draft and have to trace it all the way back to Draft Zero before you can diagnose and cure your manuscript. Okay, that analogy itself is rather contrived, but I've been running on empty since E so I say just go with it.

Elise Fallson said...

Draft Zero! That's exactly what I've got. It will not be a first draft until I get the first round of edits finished. And I'm so close to finishing except I've got a hole just before the end and it's so FRUSTRATING!

Nancy Thompson said...

This is perfect advice. I work in much the same way. I outline extensively, the immediately dive into the first draft, which I will from here on call Draft Zero. I just want to get it all down, all the major plot points and basic characters and all that. Yes, it's total crap, but it's the bones of something good, something I can work with, something I can layer. I don't like to wait either. I just dive right back in as soon as I'm finished with the that round. I give it 3 rounds before I take a break.

Jay Noel said...

Draft Zero needs a hero. Or a few heroes. My current project started with an ugly draft with potential. Then a second draft, and I sent a third to beta readers. Got all that back, and created a fourth draft. And finished a fifth draft this morning and sent it away to my publisher.

Writing is hard work!

mooderino said...

@Julie-I wish I could produce a nice coherent draft first time out, would make life a lot simpler. Sadly not to be.

@Nate-It's all over now. You have the whole alphabet to choose from again.

@Elise-I prescribe warm baths and daydreaming on the sofa.

@Nancy-I don't think there's any point wiaitng if the problems are galring. Once that's out of the way, a break can reveal much better ways to improve things.

@Jay-and so it should be!

Julie Dao said...

Yes, ABSOLUTELY. I've gotten so much better at allowing myself to write total crap and just tell myself that it will go through multiple rounds of revisions. It WILL come together. It WILL get better. But something needs to be on the page before anything can be improved.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I am writing the first draft of my urban fantasy, I am aware that there are plenty of plot holes and scenes that are just not working, but I have decided to keep writing and return only after I complete the first draft.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've come across many references to "Draft Zero"--and I always find that it's reassuring to know the crap produced in the first go-round can always be revised and edited later.

mooderino said...

@Julie Dao - once it's on the page I think that's when oyou can start getting stuff done. Even cutting becomes a positive step.

@Rachna - sounds like a plan!

mooderino said...

@Golden - really? I thought I made it up. Another idea I got to too late.

Lorena said...

Seems like you have a very efficient method to write. I'm the kind who stalls, goes back, then continues. Sometimes it takes me days to write one single scene. I'm going to do my best to follow your recommendation (I did some of this toward the end of my second novel). My goal is to write the third one much faster than I did #1 and #2. Thanks for the tips.

Damyanti said...

I'm working on a first draft right now, and Ithink I'm going to clock it back to draft zero and just let go!

mooderino said...

@Lorena-also helps me to jot down notes for previous scenes as they occur to me so I don't keep going back, but have a note of what to do whe I do go back.

@Damyanti - good luck!

Annalisa Crawford said...

My first couple of drafts are written in quick succession too, while the ideas are zooming around my head - they never fully appear on the first draft. That waiting thing happens a lot later.

Sarah Allen said...

This sounds a lot more like what I do, too. Great post.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

deathwriter said...

I vomit draft and go back and pick through the chunky bits. I know, ew, gross!
I have lots of all cap writing where I say "write the scene where you did this" or "this needs a re-write." I can't wait to get back to my ms. Tomorrow.

mooderino said...

@Annalisa-my very first attempt is written long hand. Not pretty.

@Sarah-cheers.

Margo Berendsen said...

This was a Eureka moment for me!!!! I've allowed myself to get bogged down trying to work out a scene that feels "blah" - I should just be skipping it for now to keep my momentum going. I think this is an excellent way to tackle a first draft - thank you for inspiring me!

mooderino said...

@Pamela-I do it that way too. thanks for that image by the way. Lovely.

@Margo-glad to be of help.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I can never figure out why some people send their first drafts to the CPs. My CP would disown me if I did that. And if she didn't, well she should. ;)

I usually do what you do with the "first draft" except this time I finished it and had to start work on my revision request of another ms. So my first draft is actually on a world cruise, impatiently waiting for me to send my RR on it's mini vacation.

mooderino said...

@Stina-I'd say there's nothing better than being eager to get back to work on a script. Enthusiasm makes up for a lot.

Daisy Carter said...

Reading this in 2013, from your most popular posts post. Just what I needed to read tonight because I'm writing Draft Zero (love that!) now. Onward!

mooderino said...

@Daisy - Tally Ho!

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