I really owe credit to my partner-in-brainstorming Eddy over at Eddy Writes (an awesome blog, if you haven’t already been) for the term zero draft. He coined it after I refused to show him my first run-through of my NaNoWriMo novel, Gryphon.
I refused because I wanted to take some time away from the novel and perform a revision before sending it to anyone. Why? A NaNoWriMo novel, by its very definition, is written over the course of a single month–and most of that time, you’re encouraged “not to look back”: just keep writing. Don’t stop. Don’t turn around and re-read and fix and obsess. Just keep writing.
For me, this bizarre pace results in a draft that is both fluid and cohesive, but also a total freaking wreck. Like, I would not even show this thing to a third grader, not to mention a critique partner that I actually respect. I refuse to even really call it a draft. Or even a manuscript.
Thus: zero draft. Not quite version 1, not quite out of beta; completed, but still in the incubation stage.
I was pretty happy with Gryphon when I finished it–you know that elated, “I am the Queen of the goddamned world!” feeling you get when you complete a big project. Upon revision, however, I am thrilled that I didn’t send this mess to anyone! Instead, I saved the file, closed it, and stepped away for a month. For me, that’s usually enough time to forget how every piece of the story unfolds; enough time that it can sit and simmer in the back of my hard drive until I’ve cleared some other things off my plate and am ready to revisit it.
At the point of “zero draft,” there’s really no reason for me to show the manuscript to anyone. All I have to do is put some space between it and me, come back later, and I’ll be able to catch a lot of the glaring errors that a critique partner would find (and probably laugh at me for).
I like to think of it as saving myself and saving my critique partner time. Why give them a draft I know contains major problems? Why not solve what I can solve just by letting it hang out on the backburner for a while, and then give it to my partner, when their feedback will actually be helpful and useful to me?
Obviously, not everyone works this way. Some writers like to show a critique partner a work in progress to get feedback on how to continue, or just for encouragement. But for Gryphon, the challenge of NaNoWriMo (writing a book in one month) and the vastly supportive NaNo community handled that whole part for me.
And frankly, I am so happy with the zero draft method, I’ll probably do all my manuscripts this way from now on. I’ll be the first to admit it’s just better for my ego to hand someone a more polished piece of work, and not have to suffer through being called out on mistakes I could have–and probably should have fixed–before I even hit SEND.