Preparing to Write a Zero Draft

I’ve started working on a new book. 

New books are scary; they are so open with possibilities. 

What’s strange about this particular book is that it’s been bouncing around in my head for, oh, ten years. I thought I knew a lot about it until I started writing it. The vivid scenes that I had replayed again and again in my mind turned into stick figures once I wrote them on the page. I also realised that while I had one story thread figured out, it wasn’t enough to carry the whole novel. 

In the past, the writing of my zero drafts happened intuitively and I usually threw out most of what I wrote.  

I don’t mind scrapping 80,000 words because this draft helps me figure out what the story is or is not about, who the characters are, and how my original thoughts/plans/intentions for the novel may have been limited. 

But for the story I am writing now, this method hasn’t been so helpful. Once I sketched out the handful of scenes I already had planned, I felt uncertain about what else needed to happen. I realised I needed at least some scaffolding before I could get started. Plus, my interests as a writer have changed and it is important to me that particular contemporary issues be folded into this story. 

Rather than launching right into the story because it feels productive to say, ‘I wrote 2000 words today,’ I’m instead taking a lot more time to think about the book. 

What this has looked like is a lot of daydreaming, post-it notes that map out ideas for world-building, scribblings out potential plots (there are several), watching YouTube videos on related topics, jotting down ideas sparked by conversations, and reading books that are doing similar things (and then deconstructing them). 

I’m a writer and I like writing, which is why in the past I’ve spent very little time planning my novels before beginning the zero draft. I would always create character profiles and an outline as a way to get me going, but these were usually created in a week and often forgotten about once I started writing. I was never beholden to these outlines. 

But this time I want to do something different. I want to spend the time exploring my ideas and concepts and all the potential forms this story could take before I commit to writing the zero draft. 

I don’t know that this process is any better–I don’t think we can use the word better when it comes to process. It doesn’t matter how we write our books, so long as we figure out what we need as writers to get the work done. And what we need changes constantly, even within the same day. What worked for your last book may not work for this book; the strategies that helped you this morning may be useless this afternoon. 

It’s all just one giant experiment. 

The point of this post is to give you permission to mess with your routines and processes. If you feel like writing in a different way, give it a go! Shake things up. Take risks and make mistakes. 

How you write stories is allowed to change just as much as you do. 

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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