When it’s not the time to sparkle

This past week, I started writing the third in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries series. (No, it doesn’t have a title yet. I almost never start with a title – a post for another day.)

Anyway, I am in the midst of what I call “Draft Zero.” If I haven’t talked about this here, think any other “zero” out there. Patient Zero is where the epidemic starts. Ground Zero is where the disaster “starts.” Draft Zero is where the story starts.

By it’s very nature, Draft Zero is messy. Unwieldy. What I am writing is pure dreck. No, let me rephrase that. It’s not dreck. It’s…unformed. There’s a story in there somewhere. I just need to find it. Vomit up all those words onto the virtual page. Then the real work starts.

Because Draft Zero doesn’t sparkle. There’s too much other stuff. Unnecessary words, often whole scenes. Maybe even whole characters. Or maybe something is missing. I won’t know until it’s done.

As I write, the Inner Editor chides me. “That was a really awkward phrase.” “Are you sure you want to use that word?” “Her reasoning here is awfully weak.” And on, and on, and on. I’ve become pretty good about shutting her in a closet. Or at least telling her to be quiet for now. But I have to tell her every. stinking. time.

Draft Zero is not her time. It’s my time. No one will ever see this. Not even my critique group. They’ll see the First Draft, after I’ve taken some time to cut and hack my way to the story. Before they pressure me to make it better.

Because, like a diamond, that’s what makes a story sparkle. The pressure of revision. Critique by trusted friends. But that time will come. Sparkle is for tomorrow.

Today is my time with Draft Zero.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

16 thoughts on “When it’s not the time to sparkle”

  1. Yeah. That’s what this mess I have right now is. Draft Zero. Has to improve to even be considered a Shitty First Draft.


  2. Draft Zero–I love it! It’s a much nicer name than what I call mine, the vomit draft, which sparkles in its own way. They are such fun to write, though, aren’t they? Lucky you, Mary, for starting Draft Zero. Have fun!


  3. I love the Zero Draft concept too, Mary! It’s such a freeing way to get the story down, but it’s definitely tough to turn that editor brain off! 🙂


  4. Sue, they are. Although you have to be careful not to let it get TOO crazy. (And if you call it the “vomit draft” I’m kinda afraid to ask what’s sparkling. 🙂 )

    Kate, the inner editor is tough to control. But if I keep saying, “You’ll have your turn. Just be patient.” she usually gives in. She grumbles a lot, though.


  5. I love the imagery of Draft Zero. I’m an outliner, so writing that way makes my palms sweat, but I do a lot of mind-mapping as I outline and organize a story. I have an oversized kids drawing tablet and I write whatever it is I’m plotting or trying to brainstorm in the center, with lots of spokes coming off it as I think of new ideas. I can totally see your unsparkly draft in the center of the page with all your versions coming off it, each one a bit more sparkly and polished.


  6. Kait, thanks. That inner editor is killer when you are beginning a story.

    Becky, Draft Zero applies whether you outline or not. Me, I’ve developed a process where I mind-map (if you want to call it that) before, and I outline the next two or three chapters as I go. But as I told Kait, Draft Zero applies however you work – outliner or pantser or a blend. It’s whatever comes out of your fingers first and you build from it. But the important part is NOT to edit what you write as you go (or edit as minimally as possible). This draft is the epitome of “for your eyes only.” So just write!

    Keenan, you’re making me blush. There’s definitely a level of ambiguity combined with “I think I know where I’m going. Maybe.” Although I’ve yet to write a book where I know “whodunnit” right from the start. I know who I *think* “dunnit,” which is not quite the same thing.


  7. True. I always say that my outline is my first draft. It’s much easier to silence that inner critic, though, when it’s not in any kind of prose form. And there are so many fewer words to fix in an outline than a ms draft.


  8. I’m soooo gonna try this with my next one. My inner editor is best friends with my inner perfectionist and they expect me to tow the line. I can’t wait to play in the mud(dle) next time around!


  9. That’s the problem with fast drafting for deadline. There is no skipping draft zero. I’m working on turning a zero into a one right now.


  10. Peg, that is a deadly combo indeed.

    Sam, yeah – deadlines make things way more complicated, don’t they? Part of me wishes I had one. Part of me is glad I don’t.


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