Writing in Drafts


The Many Stages of Writing and Editing

Anyone who writes, whether you’re writing a poem, a short story, a novel, a thesis, a musical composition, or anything else, writes in multiple stages or drafts.

I don’t care who you are, or how good you think you are, you write in multiple stages.
Perhaps you go through some of these stages at the same time.
Perhaps you switch back and forth between stages.
Perhaps you aren’t even aware of writing in multiple stages.
But you do write in most, if not all, of these stages in some form or other in any project.

Mental Draft

This is when you first come up with the ideas, scenery, dialogue, and what-have-you.

You “write” in this stage when you’re developing those ideas, when you’re writing them, and when you’re editing them.
You begin this stage when you begin the project, and you end this stage when you end the project; you never stop in the middle.

Some writers, however, might spend more time in this stage than other writers, before they begin the next.
Or perhaps they spend more time in this stage on certain projects before continuing.

I have found, for instance, that it is far easier–for me, at least–to write fanfiction than original.
Not because so much of the world is developed, though there is that element.
No, it is because I spend more time in this stage in the fanfiction before I go on to writing it.
Because I cared more about my original work, and was afraid of forgetting scenes, I would go straight on to writing it down, and found the difficulties in trying to write scenes before I’d fully developed them. But I was less worried about forgetting things with my fanfiction. I felt freer to visualize things for a long time before I bothered writing a single word.

Either way, both types of projects found themselves in:

Draft 0

Draft 0 (zero) can take many forms, depending on the writer’s tendencies.
Depending on those tendencies, many of these forms might even be used together within a single project.

This might be pure stream of consciousness.
Or perhaps it’s the writer leaving notes to him or herself.
Or some kind of outline.
Or if you’re very lucky, talented, or stubborn enough to fight past that internal editor (or all three), Draft 0 can actually resemble a coherent story, with properly written dialogue and narrative.
Or perhaps, if you’re like me, your Draft 0 might consist of all of these. For instance, I tried the phase outline last year, only for the result to resemble the notes I normally leave to myself, plus stream of consciousness “this is how the scene should go, but maybe I should have this character do this instead,” plus the occasional specific bit of dialogue or narrative that I particularly liked from the Mental Draft.

Whatever form this draft takes, the point is, Draft 0 is not edited.
Its purpose is not to get something good written down; the purpose is to get something written down, period.
Its purpose is to produce the result of the Mental draft in some tangible, concrete form so that you have something to edit.
Its purpose, if you’re like me, is to get these ideas written down before you forget them. 😉

And if you participate in the National Novel Writing Month, this is the draft you’ll typically focus on during the month.

Drafts 1-n

These, of course, are the drafts that most people probably think of when they talk about what draft they’re on.
This, with whatever number, is the “rough draft” you’ll typically hear about in school.
Here you make the attempt to write something coherent, something with quality, but it still needs some polishing up for one reason or another.

The edits can be for any number of reasons.
Perhaps the project is near to completion, and you’re simply checking for typos or spelling mistakes.
Perhaps you’ve already sent off a draft, and your editor had some changes for you.
Or perhaps you have an entire chapter that sounded like a good idea at the time, that you decided a year later to delete entirely, and fix anything that depends on that chapter.
Or perhaps you’re simply still working on the project. Perhaps it isn’t even done, yet.

Final Draft

The project is complete. Now it’s time to send it off and reap the rewards!

But wait!
Your agent pointed out that you kept switching between calling the process “stages” and “drafts,” and suggested you make it consistent.
Or the publisher doesn’t care how badly you want your wolf-like character to have a “meaningful name,” he doesn’t want you to name the character “Adolph.”
Whatever the reason, it’s either back to the numbered drafts, or keep looking at other publishing options. The question is, how badly do you want this published, how much pull do you have with this agent or this publisher…and how important are those changes, really?

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