We Need to Reconsider the Drafting Process; Or, Why Drafting Is the Lifeblood of Good Writing

Hemingway is said to have articulated that the first draft of anything is shit.

When it comes to our notions of drafting, especially among indie authors, we need to reconsider the value that drafting has on the writing and creation processes. We need to reconsider the drafting processes, because indie authors often focus on production, quantity, over the creation of quality. This isn’t helped by the “publish or perish” mantra that dominates the entire publishing industry, from the heavy hitters all the way down to the self-published indies publishing on Draft2Digital and tweens writing on Wattpad.

Ihave recently embarked on a journey to draft more, in order to spend less time on throwing out entire projects or giving up on writing entirely. I have killed more trees than I would like to admit, all in the pursuit of crafting something special and something perfect. In other words, I spent much of my writing life spinning my wheels, going nowhere fast or meaningful.

It took a rather deep conversation in the Space Opera: Writers group on Facebook to come to the realization that my writing was plagued by something deeper than not having an evergreen concept. Instead, my problem had been that I wasn’t spending enough time with my projects. I was simply hoping to go from concept to finished product, using the inertia provided by the great writerly muses above. In other words, I was hoping to use the one-shot draft concept, finding that it wasn’t conducive to my creative processes and the projects I had in mind.

In fact, I have found that many indies suffer from the same problem. They just don’t spend time with their writing. For example, I was a beta-reader for a fellow science-fiction writer, and I found that the writer in question needed at least another two or three drafts for the current work. However, this writer didn’t really spend time with the piece being produced. Instead, as stated above, the publish or perish mentality dominated, and the goal was simply to produce something that could be fired down range.

Indies need to realize that what separates their work, often times, from the heavy-hitting professionals comes down to drafting. Most indies I know don’t draft enough, and it shows up in their work. (I will say this about indies, they often care deeply about their craft, but drafting is often ignored — and wrongly so.)

Drafting allows us to spend time with a piece. It’s similar to brewing beer. You don’t brew a good beer in a day. (You can try, but it will probably taste like shit.) Drafting allows the writer to add the necessary layers and details that draw readers into the story. (Aside: I know that even professionals don’t care much about drafting, but it shows up in their writing as well. I’m looking at Fifty Shades of Something.) Moreover, in a world where there is a ton of white noise in the publishing industry, offering readers the very best product and experience is just something that allows indies to stand out from the crowd.

One area where indies and professionals are going head-to-head happens to be in the world of Web serials. You can tell when a professional has written a Web serial. It has gone through a few drafting phases. It feels like something the author has spent time on. Indies, on the other hand, are spotty when it comes to the quality of their Web serials. Some feel like the first drafts; they feel as if they’ve just been put on paper or Word document and sent into the Verse, on a hope or a prayer.

The surprising thing about those successful indie authors writing Web serials comes down to their process — particularly drafting. Drafting allows established indies to work and rework their material until it is ready for consumption.

To write my own Web serial, A Protracted Game, I have relied on what I am referring to as a fat outline (see Lind’s YouTube video above). (Aside: My version of the fat outline is a mixture between traditional outlining, the fat outline proposed by Lind, and a zero draft — so it’s all over the place.) The fat outline, to me, is essentially the draft before the first, second, or third drafts have come into existence. In other words, my fat outline (see in the featured image above) has allowed me to figure out where things are headed. After a few revisions, something like four or five in total, I now know who my characters are, what scenes I will have in future installments, and what’s at stake throughout the narrative. And that’s just the beginning!

Myoutline has slowly become something more. It serves both as a roadmap and as a bit of inspiration when I am lost at sea. In other words, my outline offers a helping hand throughout the writing processes. I am never alone, and, the best part, my outline can be molded or modified to change with my needs. (As I stated above, this outline or what you might call a zero draft, came to me over a series of drafts. In fact, I have numbered the drafts between 0 and 0.95.)

Image Credit: ProWritingAid

Drafting is an important aspect of any writing endeavor. Without it, we flounder, we produce garbage, and, if we’re totally honest, we are living on a prayer when it comes to finishing our projects. Make things surer and use the drafting processes to produce the very best foundations, before you begin writing that great novel you’ve got stuck in your head. You will thank me later — I promise. (Below you will find a link to my very own zero draft/outline/fat outline.)

My zero draft/outline/fat outline. (Please ignore the misspellings and whatnot. Also, if you’re reading my Protracted Game Web serial, don’t look at this unless you want to be apprised of some serious spoilers.)

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Gregory M. Rapp

Gregory M. Rapp

A writer of fiction and nonfiction, a blogger, an avid reader and writer, and gamer.
New Mexico