Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Write a Draft... and How Many Drafts it Takes

How does one write a draft? And how many drafts does it take until a story, blog post, or article is complete? There are plenty of people out there searching for the answers to those questions.

As a freelancer, I have a lot of different projects going on at one time. Not all of them are computer-based, so I don't always sit in front of my computer for long spans of time, nor do I always have the luxury of spending my computer time focused on a single piece of work. This can be very frustrating if I'm trying to achieve a certain goal in one sitting - such as, say, "finishing a first draft." I'm sure the same is true for many people who live and work in the writing world. Whether it's kids, pets, other jobs, or something else that takes your mind away from the draft, it can be hard when you don't know when it's time to "move on to the next stage."

Now that I've been thinking more about drafts in general, and how to get my work done more quickly specifically, I think that the problem is with the carved-in-stone definition of "draft." For example, when I write an article for a site online (such as Trail's Edge Blog), I used to try and force myself through to my desired word count on the first pass. That led to me either staring at the screen angrily when I was halfway through and coming up blank, or just procrastinating until I had that perfect slot of time available. Which never happened, by the way.

My new strategy involves giving myself a break. Why does a draft necessarily have to be a certain count of words, or else it won't count? The key is to break the idea of "draft" down into even smaller chunks. Instead of telling myself I have to write X number of words, I'll allow myself to just take a crack at it, and see what comes out. Every time I try this, the words just seem to flow. I'll stop when my inspiration runs out, work on something else for a while, then come back and tidy up a bit. Before I know it, the piece in question is done, and me and my editors are happy campers.

Of course, this isn't to say that there won't still be times you need to push yourself, or that this technique will work for everyone. But I find the practice or nibbling away bit by bit to be more productive (and less scary) than worrying about which "draft" I'm on, and how many more "drafts" I need to do before I'm done.

Plus, as writers we know that a piece of writing is never truly finished. There's no such thing as a "final draft." There's the version that you turn in, that you've finished to the best of your abilities, which is the important part. And if you want to make it there, you need to stop worrying about drafts and start thinking about the whole process as an organic thing living out its life over time.

Image by psyberartist on Flickr.
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