On Zero Drafts

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Everybody knows what a rough draft is, right? The first few drafts of a project before being subjected to a torturous amount of editing, often looking radically different at the end. But what most people don’t know is that some writers choose to write a first draft of a story or article that is rougher than rough, so poorly executed that the reader would think the author flunked English class. These roughest of the rough drafts are called zero drafts.

As a writer myself, for years I struggled with trying to reach a certain word count goal I had set for myself, or even finishing a story. Too many times I quit writing a story or a novel because it was taking me too long to write even the first draft. It was a big source of anxiety for me. Then, by random chance, I was looking up advice for writers on Google and came across an author whose name I have forgotten who first mentioned the concept of a zero draft, and I decided to experiement.

Since word count was the thing that frustrated me most when it came to writing, meeting my word count every day became my top priority. This is where the zero draft came in. I reached into my brain and shut out every thought, worry, and piece of doubt I had and committed my mind entirely to telling the story. I ignored punctuation, spelling, typos, or anything else that would slow me down. If I did not have a name for a particular character planned already, I would use “character” as a placeholder until I could come back later and make one up. There was one time I did this with all the characters, with titles such as “hero”, “villain”, “boss”, and so on filling in where there would usually be names. Once or twice I even used it for locations, as well.

The result was a hideous, absolutely disgusting piece of writing but one I was proud of nonetheless. It made the “official” rough draft process linger and more complicated than it could have been, but I reached my word count. I even managed to write four thousand words in one setting multiple times, making me feel kind of on par with Isaac Asimov, though I was happy enough to hit a thousand words a day almost every other time.

Most importantly, though, the story was written. As someone who struggled constantly with writer’s block, anxiety, and a lack of commitment getting the story down on paper was a huge step in the right direction. Without adding this extra step to my own writing process I never would have written what I have written, and one of those bits is currently on the market as of this writing.

While it may not be for everybody, writing a zero draft is a sure way of boosting confidence and, most importantly, telling a story. Just don’t forget to go back and EDIT!

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