In full honest confession, I actually didn’t know what a zero draft was until a couple of years ago when a writer friend mentioned she was about twenty-thousand words into one. I asked her what a zero draft was, and the answer I got surprised me: It’s the earliest draft of your story, in which there is no order.
It’s fairly well established at this point that I’m a pantser. I write based on whatever inspiration I have on hand. Up until I’d heard about a zero draft, I figured drafts that meandered, made no sense and generally had gaping holes were rough drafts.
Dependent on your particular process this might still hold true. Your rough draft is for you and no one else. A zero draft however, is often where you throw things in for the story before you write a proper draft. In other words, rather than looking anything like a first draft, it might just be a conglomeration of notes–such as ‘Come up with Witty Banter. Will needs to sound smart.’ or perhaps just a few rough ideas of dialogue. There might be a random character that pops up and then vanishes until two chapters before the end.
More or less, zero drafts are unstructured pieces of writing. This might mean a free writing exercise that takes up dozens of pages. Alternately, it’s just a collection of scenes to help you explore what you want to write. There’s really only one rule:
More specifically, write uninterrupted. If you get hung up on trying to come up with clever dialogue, then leave a note. If you don’t know what the next scene would be, skip to the one you do know. You can leave a note for what you know should happen next, or you can just hop from one scene to the next and back.
Do not edit. Don’t rewrite anything. Don’t even use the backspace or delete key. Just keep writing.
Give yourself permission to make the worst piece of writing ever. Title that document as your Worst Version Ever. Leave ridiculous notes in the middle of sentences. Ignore basic formatting or even start a new line every sentence. Whatever it takes to just get the ideas down.
Writing and editing are constant states for me. It’s very rare that I find myself not in one or the other. In the last couple of days however, I’ve found myself in between projects. Although I have plenty of things to be working on, because of how busy my schedule has gotten with the approaching holiday season, I haven’t actually picked up my next project.
While it feels weird to sit down when I have a few minutes and realize I don’t have an active project, it’s also given me a chance to organize and categorize what I want to do with my current projects.
Because it’s a long list I won’t delve into the details here, but two of the big things I want to work on are easy to see.
One: Editing speed and comfort are still trailing behind my writing a fresh project speed. As a result, my rough drafts and new projects outnumber my second drafts and works-in-progress by ten to one, quite literally. It’s a problem and one I am to fix.
Secondly: I love the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but I want to expand what I’m comfortable writing. The two genres I’ve steered clearest of so far are romance and mystery. To me, they’re the hardest to write. Capturing the complexities of a mystery plot takes a lot of concentration and organization. Romance scares me strictly because the focus is entirely on the emotional journey of two people falling in love.
Although it’s early for me to set up my goals for the next year, I’m keeping those two things in mind. For what’s left of this month, I want to try and stay focused on editing. I just have to decide which one to start editing.
Where are you at with your projects?
Arguably, writers actually spend relatively little time writing. There are a lot of other things to be done in the process of building a story. Characters need naming, places need researching. Fights need choreographing. That one sentence in chapter three probably needs rewriting.
A large amount of time is spent on editing and rewriting. When facing a mountain of words to go through it can feel a little daunting, and finding somewhere to start can be difficult. Here’s a few places to try starting.
Read through your manuscript and make notes as you go. This can help you see what absolutely needs fixing at this point, and what can be saved for a later draft.
Outline your plot again. Try doing this from memory, and then check it against your MS to see where you might have extraneous scenes, events, or where you might need to flesh out some scenes again.
Break it down into multiple drafts and pick a focus for each one. Perhaps in one draft you’re focusing on getting all the character backstories in, and the details. In the next you might worry about plot structure. In the final draft, go back and clean up your voice, word choice and yes, grammar.
Outlines are well known tools for writers. Many writers like to use them as a way to help discover and plan the story before they begin writing, while others look at the outline with some dismay. Regardless of how you view outlines, they are well-known for a reason.
It’s important to remember that an outline isn’t concrete. Think of it more as a guideline that can change just as the needs of your story change. It can change just as much as your story does.
The other really important thing about an outline is that you don’t need it before you start writing that first draft. In fact, you may find it more useful to create an outline after you’ve written the story, to help you edit. I’ve found this helps identify extraneous scenes, but also to help build support for saggy middles.
Outlines also take a lot of different forms. List, bullet points, flow charts, summaries. There are about a dozen different ways to create an outline. And like everything else in writing, the only one that’s guaranteed to work is the one that works for you. Trial and error are your friends.
Every writer has a slightly different style. This shows up in just about every stage of the writing process, and most especially, when figuring out where to start on telling a story. Everyone has a first draft, but first drafts can vary wildly.
Continue reading “First Draft: Style”