Why First Drafts Require A Hazmat Suit

A closeup of the fireball and mushroom cloud f...

Actual representation of the creative process. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You ever heard of the zero draft? It’s when you just write, even if you know it’s crap. You give yourself permission to write an incredibly bad draft right off the bat. No more writer’s block, because the block is mostly fear. Let go of the fear and the writing comes.

I prefer to think of mine as the Ground Zero Draft. And I recently revisited one of those, a novel I wrote last spring. When I started I just dropped a 15 kiloton Idea-Bomb on the page and let that fucker blow. Man, it was carnage. Character pieces lying on the ground or hanging in the trees. Half-collapsed plots leaning against each other like a Jenga tower halfway through the game, when a misplaced sneeze means the difference between triumph and defeat. Toothless antagonists gumming the ankles of the survivors. Words everywhere.

And maybe some zombies. Because, you know, why not.

I let that mess sit for a while, maybe wait for those antagonists to gnaw a few of the weaker pieces to death, and then I come back. Striding across the radioactive wasteland of the Idea-Bomb with a Hazmat suit and a flamethrower, I survey the wreckage to see what’s salvageable. Sometimes things survive intact, and those pieces I keep, tucking them away for the next draft. Others have mutated into something strange, but that can be useful, too. Give me a new way of looking at it that maybe I never considered before. And some are just wretched, misshapen things that have no business in that story. Oozing characters that stain everything they touch. Zombie sub-plots that won’t die. Too weak, too strong, too wrong… they don’t work.

That’s when I get the flamethrower.

And, usually, I come out of the collapsed remains of the zero draft with a pretty good idea of what the story actually is. I know what I need to do to make this next draft, the real first draft, a good one.

Time to start rebuilding. Just keep your eyes peeled for those zombie sub-plots.


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