Thursday 13 December 2018

Why I’m calling this draft Draft 0

Writers have a lot of different names for the first draft of a novel – many of them not all that polite... This is the draft you write when you’re working out how the story fits together, when you’re telling yourself the story.

It’s not for public consumption.

It doesn’t always make sense.

As you write, the characters may change their names requiring you to go back and do a search and replace to make them consistent. Chances are that once you’ve done this you’ll notice a lot of squiggly red underlines beneath words you didn’t intend to change. In my most recent book, I changed a character called Abby to Karen. As a tabby cat also featured several times in the story, I then had to do another search and replace to change tKaren back to tabby.

It could be that some vital piece of a character’s identity will only be revealed to you halfway through writing. You could go back… But no, onwards, always onwards. There’ll be more to sort in the next draft. Right now, you just need to get to the end.

Then there are the places where you can’t make a decision about something or you need to go away and do some research. But the clock is ticking: on-wards, on-wards. And so your draft becomes a patchwork of margin notes, square brackets and highlighting.

Don’t even get me started about the beginning – you may as well face the fact that whatever you’ve written in this draft almost certainly isn’t actually how the finished novel will start. You have to put the words on the page and move on.

The ending will be worse. How do you tie up a story in a surprising but inevitable and satisfying way? How do you return your characters to a settled state showing that they have changed somehow from their experience? And what is more, how do you do these things without great big signs pointing out, “Look! Here’s how my character has been changed by the story!” It’s entirely possible that you have no real idea about what change has happened or what the underlying theme of your story is.

So here you are with your first draft, little more than a document full of words and ideas and notes strung together in some sort of order. Perhaps the most expressive of the expressions writers give this first draft is the vomit draft. No matter which way you look at it, it’s RUBBISH. It’s so thoroughly disheartening to look at that you could almost just press the delete key right now...  If only you hadn’t sweated so much over this worthless pile of words.

Here’s the thing, though. When I started the last book I wrote, I labelled it Draft 1 as I usually do. I will expect to get to around Draft 5 before I’m happy with it. But this time, just after I started to write, I happened to look at Robin Stevens Instagram account. Robin usually posts a picture of the corner of her screen every time she gets past another 10,000 words. I love that she does that – it’s the kind of thing I expect from not-yet-made-it writers but for her there are legions of avid fans just waiting for those 10,000s to show up in her next book. I’m always ready to cheer on any writer for their next 10,000! Anyway, in the comments Robin had called the draft Draft 0. And as soon as I saw this a lightbulb flicked on in my mind.

Draft 0! Of course! This first draft isn’t really a draft at all. It’s the raw material that Draft 1 will come from. It’s work you do on a lump of clay before you throw it onto a wheel and make a pot from it. Readers, I went straight to my computer and relabelled my mess of a manuscript Draft 0!

And now I’ve reached the end of Draft 0, I can put it away in its virtual drawer to mellow and mature for a while, confident that when I get it out again and discover that it’s not a book, it’s not a disaster. It's inevitable. It’s not supposed to be a book yet. I can love it for what it is: the raw material from which to build a book.

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