Defining the Zero Draft

I’m obsessed with writers and their routines.

When do they write? What time of the day they are most productive? Where do they write – home office or coffee shops?

Coffee or tea?

What flavor tea? Personally, I prefer green or jasmine tea.

What tools do they use? Scrivener, Google Docs, Word or do they write by hand?

Outline or pants away…

So many amazing facets to the writing life and different projects may dictate their own approach, but one concept that kept popping up was the discussion about shrugging off limitations by writing a zero draft.

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Zero draft…what is it?

Essentially the zero draft is you telling yourself the story. It is for the writer’s eyes only. Vague descriptions of setting, chunks of narrative and awkward sounding dialogue, info dumps…throw it all in. The zero draft is the skeleton of your story, and a messy place to explore your characters on the page.

Leigh Bardugo, the amazing author of Six of Crows, uses zero drafts as an essential part of her writing process. She uses the zero draft as a way to layout the pivotal moments of the story. I was blown away when I found out that the zero draft of Six of Crows was 30,000 words long. There is something incredibly motivating knowing that you don’t have to have it all figured out when you sit down to write. It’s okay to skip the parts you haven’t exactly figured out and come back to it later. 

I’m using a zero draft for my next writing project, and I’m also writing by hand. Just a few pages per day because I’m focussing on revising my other project but I’m adding words without all the hang-ups of creating a perfect first draft.

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I’m writing down the bones of the story, using placeholders, questions, notes to self, basically anything to keep the story moving forward. By now, we know that the magic is in the revision. The objective of the zero draft is to get to the end…finish the thing, then go back to the beginning and rework the draft using the existing story framework.

Each writer’s process is different and while a zero draft may not work or be appealing to some, I find it a liberating way to write and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Have you ever taken inspiration from another writer’s process?

One thought on “Defining the Zero Draft

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  1. I use to do several drafts, printing the story out by hand on long yellow legal pads using a pencil in the process of writing a short story and the first draft was just to get it all down and to get to the end of the story. I wouldn’t start a story unless I knew what the end was going to be. Then maybe a couple of more drafts until the final draft. That was years ago before the internet. Now I just type my story on my blog and I go over it until I like it and then hit the publish button. I still have to know what the end of a story will be. I have to know how the journey is going to end if I’m to know what to put in and leave out along the way. Hemingway would use legal yellow pads and print his stories out by hand using a yellow number two pencil. At least that’s what I’ve read. But there are photos of him using a type writer. He typed with two fingers.

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