The Zero Draft

Learning the zero draft technique was a huge breakthrough for me. I’m amazed that I haven’t written an article on it yet. So what better way to breathe life back into this blog than starting at the very first step?

Why would you need a Zero Draft?

We spend our lives consuming finished products. In doing so we forget about the rough drafts and revisions that our favourite novels went through. Ever spent hours staring at the blank page (or the blinking cursor)? We’re crippled by the notion that what comes out has to be perfect. We rarely hear about how many takes an actor needed to perfect a scene. How many times a dancer fell before nailing an amazing routine. How many photos the photographer took of a scene before deciding on the final one that now hangs in the gallery. When we decide to make the move from consumers to creators, we seem to forget that every performance, artwork, book and game has risen from a pile of revisions, practices and failed attempts. This feeds into doubt. When you compare your first attempt to a finished masterpiece, doubt will step in and point out how far off the mark you are. It will offer it as evidence that you can’t sing. Or dance. Or write. Paint. Act. Whatever.

Doubt wants to kill your creativity.

We forget that the finished product is going to be completely different from that first attempt. This is where doubt will try to stop you; it’s so much easier now than later, when you’ve put hours of work in. Doubt will drain your motivation and make it easy for you to give up. The Zero Draft is a simple concept: sit down and write without editing anything. Constant typing is the goal. No stopping and thinking! This removes the most difficult problem a writer has to overcome: sitting down to write. It’s even rougher than what you were taught a first draft should be. If you can help it, don’t even touch backspace. If you make a mistake, hit space and start the word again. Stay in ‘creation’ mode.

Zero drafting kills your doubt.

No-one else will ever read your zero draft. This pledge is what you throw in the face of doubt every time it tries to stop you writing because of what other people might think. Because you are going to edit what you write, it doesn’t matter what comes out. You’re going to polish it until it shines, and that’s going to take a few passes. And it’s as simple as that. If I’m writing a blog post then I’ll write with the topic or title in mind. It’s not until a few edits down the road that structure and headings get considered. For fiction, I’ll have a plan for the scene that I’m writing. That will be somewhere easily in view, and I’ll glance at that as I write the draft.

You cannot edit a blank page.

You know how someone sitting at a pottery wheel will slam the clay down, spin the wheel and craft that mess into a cup or plate or something? Sitting and staring at a blank page is the same as a potter spinning up the wheel and trying to shape something before slamming the clay down. There’s nothing there! How can they hope to shape it in to something meaningful? Belting out that zero draft is the same as slamming that chunk of clay down. Now you have something in front of you, you can work it into something better.
To better illustrate this point, here is the zero draft for this blog post. Untouched, unedited and unchanged. I know that I’m breaking my own first rule, but I think that it’s the only way to really show what I mean. Compare that what you see here to that. It took 4 drafts to get to this final product you’re reading now. Try it. Find an idea or get a writing prompt from somewhere, turn off that inner critic and blast out a zero draft. Then spin the wheel and mould what you’ve created into something better. Don’t sit there trying to edit a blank page!