Zero Drafts Are Not For Me

by ryankl

I hate Zero Drafts.

More specifically, I don’t think they are for me and a more mature man would cite irreconcilable differences and walk away but not me, no, me, I gotta hold a life grudge and mumble about it drunkenly at any opportunity.

Oh, and if you don’t know what a Zero Draft is, it’s the first pass at a story where you just ramble, some say Burroughs style, others feel it turns out more Ed Wood, and you just bash out the story. You don’t think about craft, you don’t worry about structure, you purely concern yourself with the narrative. If that.

It’s also known as the Vomit Draft, and I believe that parmesan stink never washes off.

I don’t dig the zero draft purely because it goes against my sensibilities as a writer. I’m not the fastest scripter in the world, anything between 2-4 pages for a day leaves me happy (and by day I mean night, my nights writing after my day job, and during the sleep of my children that can often transform into the screaming and neediness of my children at an instant). 2-4 pages leaves me happy and much of that is because when I write a page, it’s usually very close to a final version (and by this I mean closer to the final version than the zero draft version is) because I edit as I write. I reorganise and craft and worry and fret and study and all the while build from firm schematics. That first draft for me is very good, it just might take me longer.

I edit in the page, initially, because I like to do as much as possible while I have my sleeves up and am already in there. That’s why I can stew over a scene for days and slowly chip at the marble until it takes shape. The alternative is to write a bunch of ‘first draft’ dialogue that does the job but in the way whacking a giant wooden mallet will get the attention of a girl but it won’t woo her. I don’t like writing the thin page and leaving the real process for Future Ryan when Present Ryan is here and he should man up.

But I understand, this is very much MY style. My mind is broken so that when I finish typing the last page of the script I feel like a massive hurdle has been sailed over and I can breathe and unclench again.

With a zero draft, you have to clench down harder for the next part. The zero draft is, by design, not good. It’s clunky, it’s hack work, it’s going to need a lot of polish across the whole thing. I don’t like ‘feeling finished’ and having that ahead of me. I like to polish little pieces as I go. Others like to just get the story straight and out and then they add theme and funny dialogue and all that.

I hate even leaving a scene, or panel, behind for Future Ryan because I get to the end of the script and I feel done but I’m not and then the wind goes completely out of my sails and it’s just not the headspace I like to be in, ridiculous as it sounds. I like to plow through each page and leave no stone unturned. Sometimes, I know when it’s healthy to move on and not write the pain in the ass scene, that works, too, but I always come back.

I’ve found, recently, that I tend to write from Page 1 to 22 as a default so that means I set up a scene and then I knock it down, move on, repeat, until the script is done. And when I get to the end, I feel like I’ve been in the trenches with this script and sorted things out. This is how I like MY process to roll. I’m finding my ‘zero draft’ time is spent in my script plan where I will rewrite it from paper to screen to paper and again until it’s done for quite some time. I get the terrible itches out there, I hope, and then the actual script pages can be the hallowed ground. That’s the plan, anyway.

I should also say, I enjoy the editing process. It’s nowhere near as much fun as the creating/writing process but it has its charm. But I like to keep that charm in minimal doses and that’s why I edit as I write, and then have only small pockets of editing needed for later.

Writing the zero draft isn’t for me because I love writing the script and to constantly ‘finish’ scripts and have them be terrible and in need of mammoth amounts of work would be soul crushing and would eventually trash my mind until I would write no more because all that came out was dreck.