The Magic Of Draft Zero

One of the many mistakes made by new writers and indeed some not-so-new writers, is showing their work to people too soon.

That initial urge to share your work ASAP is only natural.  Until other people absorb your stuff into their brains, it exists in a vacuum.  Might as well not exist.  If a script sits on a hard-drive with no-one around to read it, does it make a difference?  No.  Only to you, at this point in time, unless you have an agent who's badgering you to finish it, or at least waiting for it.

Hand in hand with that drive to show people, comes the feeling that whatever you write in that vast, gaping, intimidatingly blank Final Draft file will be read.  Sometimes, that feeling can bring about a terrible paralysis.  You're standing on the brink of a huge vortex of possibility.  Worst of all, there's the sense that This Is It.  No more talking: it's time to do.  Time to prove yourself to the world.  Again.

Me, I love the first draft.  Love that open road, beckoning you to burn rubber.  Most of all, though, I love the fact that no-one will ever read it.

This is because the first draft you hand to Important People should never be the actual first draft, but crucially, the first draft you've decided to show them.  Personal first-draft, public first-draft.  Very different beasts.

With that in mind, I like to call my first salvo Draft Zero.  For one thing, it sounds cool.  Zero-anything is cool besides, off the top of my head, Size Zero.  Zero tolerance, Patient Zero, the Zero Room, Zero Mostel, allowing absolutely Zero to stop you finishing this script or novel.

For another thing, the concept of Draft Zero helps cement the idea in your head that this draft is your own personal sandpit.  Sure, you're taking it seriously and making every effort to construct a strong skeletal structure to which you'll eventually graft muscle, organs and finally beautifully flawless skin, Hellraiser-style.  But at the same time, you have absolute carte blanche to fuck it up.  You can't win unless you're not afraid to lose.  Forget all external pressure and fuel yourself with internal pressure: the burning desire to write this story before you die of anticip-p-p-pation.

Launch yourself into that sandpit and write like the seven winds.  Momentum is everything.  Never look back.  Pretend you're being chased by a shark which devours words (an image which reminds me to strongly recommend Steven Hall's extraordinarily vivid and imaginative novel The Raw Shark Texts).  Some writers continually stop, survey what they've written, then go back to fix it.  If that method works for them, great, but I can't do that.  Momentum, momentum, momentum.  When I realise I've messed up, or that things will need to be fixed later, I make Running Notes, then just keep writing.

When you reach the end of that fun, breathless marathon, what you have is Draft Zero.  And it's yours.  All yours.  A template for future greatness.

You'll go back to rewrite it again and again, restructuring, ironing out the many flaws, de-clunking that often laughable dialogue, starting to introduce or strengthen those lurking themes.  And at the end of that process, that's when you emerge triumphant from your steaming, churning brain-factory with The Actual First Draft.

Draft Zero is your own personal, very private firstborn.  Enjoy the vacuum in which it resides.  In space, no-one can hear you scream that it hasn't turned out quite how you expected.

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Hilary Hadley Wright said...

Cool idea, Jason! Zero it is...

A.M.J. Muir said...

Yes! This is what I've been doing without realising it. My draft is nearly done and I have only got this far by telling myself "no one sees this, it's my personal frankenstein's monster". I was going to have a first draft party when it's finished. Instead I think I'll have a Draft Zero party!

CharmedLassie said...

You chucked Zero Mostel in there. Definitely sold on the idea!

Anonymous said...

Darren Aronofski uses the phrase 'muscle draft' which I quite like - i.e. it's the one where you just barge your way to the end, nothing stops you.

Chrissy said...

I'm starting draft zero today. I agree about showing your work too early. It's the same in every industry. Heck, it's the same when you are making crafts for gifts or home decor or cooking family dinner. It's no wonder my dad always kicks us out of the kitchen when he's cooking. People always judge the unfinished project and predict in their head how it will turn out

keppoch said...

I like the analogies and would throw Ground Zero into the pot - from which hopefully creative power is released.

Anonymous said...

I love the Draft Zero concept. You're so right about momentum. We need 'something' and we need it finished. Once that's done, we have the roughly hewn beating heart at the centre of our next creation.