Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March mini-NaNo, half way! + Thoughts on Zero Drafts

What? It's Wednesday again? How did that happen . . . *looks around distractedly*. Seriously. HOW? Ah well. Another week of life has flown by, with me groping ineffectually after its tail feathers as it passed. This week LEFT ME BEHIND. You know how some weeks you climb onto and ride like . . . an ostrich, or a unicycle? They carry you along, wind in your hair, and you reach the new week like it's a bus stop (ostrich stop, unicycle stop) and you're perfectly on time, impeccable in your crocheted Barbie traveling suit?
And other weeks roar right past you like those stupid redneck ATVs, spewing sand in your face, and you flail blindly and tumble down a sand dune and lay moaning at the bottom, while seagulls peck at you to see if you're delicious? Yeah. Well. You can probably guess what kind of week I've had! (And yes, thank you, I have it on good seagull authority that I am delicious.)

And NO, I did NOT meet my goal. I can't believe you asked. Sheesh. That's so mean. Just rub it in why don't you. Here, here's the salt shaker. Throw some salt in there while you're at it. And I suppose you are sitting smugly atop a mountain of pages, licking an ice cream cone with just the very tip of your tongue, gloating? Well, goody for you. Goody.. This is for you:

Ha ha. Sorry. I am REALLLLLLLLY happy for you! Really. No. Really. I am. I genuinely hope you all had splendid writing weeks. The fact is, I did have a highly productive creative week, but my energies were channeled into the unexpected art burst that I mentioned in my last post. It's Laini's Ladies related and it's important -- a whole new look for Laini's Ladies, about which I am really really excited, the kind of excited that makes you NOT GET TIRED, not even at 2 am. I've been up painting, listening to books on tape, and have to make myself go to bed. It's kind of wonderful! I did get some writing done too, but not as much as I wanted, and not every day, which is stupid, because when you skip a day or two, you know what happens. You lose your momentum, forget where you were, and have to go rereading stuff to catch up, which takes away precious time for actual writing. Plus, when you're writing a fast draft, you don't really want to reread that stuff, because its awfulness is painful. It makes me wince. I read it like this:
(That's not really me.)

So. Without further ado, let's have a sign-in for next week. In the comments, tell how you did and what you're planning to keep yourself inspired this coming week.

For my part, I need to get back on the ostrich.
My goal? Hm. How about . . . 6000 words? And writing every morning, so I don't lose my place. That's my commitment.

And now, some thoughts on . . . the Zero Draft:

I think the first place I ever heard the term "zero draft" was in the Terry Pratchett interview in The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Fantasy Writers, by Leonard S. Marcus. To the question, "Do you revise your work?", Pratchett answered:

"My work goes through five drafts. Draft Zero is something I would never show anyone! Draft One is me telling the story to myself once I think I know how it goes. Draft Two is me telling the story to my editor. Draft Three is what we end up with. And Draft Four is what I call sanding and polishing--when the spell-checker comes into play and I'm working on the fine detail of a sentence."

And I liked it, the idea of a draft so raw it doesn't even get a number (Okay, nerds, fine, so zero is a number. Whatever.), it isn't even really considered a draft. It's certainly nothing you'd ever show anyone. I mean, look, Pratchett's first draft is still only for himself; it's not until the second that he shows somebody. The zero draft is a primitive, inchoate* thing, the shadowy silhouette of a beast that has not yet fully come into being. It is a Frankenstein creation still lying on its slab, not yet animated by the spark of life. It is somewhat monstrous, and that's okay. It is supposed to be.

I wrote recently how I'd heard one writer's process was to write a draft and then delete it and start over, and how appalling this was to me, but now I get it. This deleted thing was perhaps a zero draft, a monstrosity. To read it would probably be painful, but the writing of it was necessary to begin to bring it to life, to get it to gel in your head so you could begin to write a first draft.

The beginning of my current book, the first third to half of it, is not a zero draft, but is in various states of polish and persnicketiness. The problem there is that when I shift an idea even slightly, which I am constantly doing, it requires rewriting, much much rewriting, and the more I love the writing of a particular scene, the more I will try to preserve certain lovely phrases, carry them over into the new version. And this takes FOREVER. It's the most painstaking kind of surgery, like transplanting eyelashes onto your Frankenstein. Have you had the experience where you're doing something that requires keeping your hand steady for long periods of time and your hand is just fed up, it just wants to go a little crazy, flap around, clench and unclench, do jazz hands? That's what happens to my mind after a while too. I've known for a long time that the idea of a zero draft makes total sense, but I haven't been so able to DO it, at least not in a long novel. But I am trying it now, and I shudder at its Frankenstein-ness, but still, there are *snicks* every single day, where I figure something out and realize that I have made a breakthrough that will not require any ridiculous eyelash transplant surgery because I had not yet devoted time to fine-tuning something that was not ready for fine-tuning. It's such a relief.

So, are you doing a zero draft? How's it feel? Happy writing, everyone. Happy week!

*(I love the word "inchoate" and am forever trying to find places to use it :-) It dates back to my high school reading of D.H. Lawrence, and having to look the word up, and even then not being sure I quite had a hold of it. It was like trying to hold a fish. Do I know what this word means? I think I do ... no wait, it just escaped! Quick, catch the inchoate before it flops back into the lake! A hallmark of my young writing is over-the-top vocabulary. I spoke that way too, kind of like Oscar Wao. Nerd that I was. And am.)


Debbie Barr said...

This is just what I needed to hear! I'm on a "zero draft" right now, and I have the deadline of a workshop in June. My novel is positively crawling right now, because I keep getting bogged down thinking of all the re-writing that needs to go in since I've changed many aspects of the story. And I'm only 12,000 words in. So thank you for sharing with us, once again, that writing is hard! Sometimes it's good to hear that we're all in this troubling (but wonderful) craft together.

And last week I only wrote 1,000 words out of my predicted 10,000. *sheepish* Maybe a smaller goal will help this week...

Jes said...

Tried again for 7800 words, and got through only 2800 this week. Laini, guys, I think I hate my Zero Draft. I'm creating a sad, desolate world that I struggle returning to each morning. My monster hasn't even drawn breath yet and I already loathe the sight of him. Is this a normal growing pain? What do you all do? Plug away, or try something new?

Alysa Stewart said...

Jes - Well, it's a zero draft, right? I mean, it doesn't have to be congruous. You could keep plugging away AND try something new!

Umm, what did I commit to last week? Oh, hey! "flesh things out with some specifics" -- nice! I did that. I got specific on 2/3 of the story, just 1/3 left. So I'll finish that up this week. And maybe type a little, maybe.

Ez said...

In meeting word goals you guys might find something like Write or Die helpful. I found it on the nanowrimo boards because someone else recommended it.

Nanowrimo 2009 was my zero draft. I'm currently working on draft #2. In going over my zero draft, some of the best stuff I wrote was on write or die. Even though there are excerpts in parenthesis that go something like (I can't do this, I can't do this...yes I can, yes I can). :-P

As for my goals this month. I am so bogged down with the ending, I can't seem to see the forest for the trees. Everything I've written, I've trashed and started over. My goal for this week is 5,000 words that I don't "delete".

Johari said...

Love the idea of a zero draft!

I'm hoping to finish my draft this coming week. Very. Much. Scared.

I'm hacking away at it and I'm so close to finishing, but suddenly I get distracted by sunshine and fresh air. It's mainly because when I finish this draft (the zero draft), I'm going to have to start allowing the editor-that-lives-in-my-brain to make notes and change things and revise. Ugh. She's an extremely harsh critic.

But I'm also excited too! Yeah!

Johari said...

Laini--One more thing! It was your essay on exploratory drafts, specifically the metaphor of writing as hacking through a jungle, that got me to finally sit down and write this draft in the first place. I've been working on this story for two years, but I had yet to actually write a full draft. But your essay gave me the extra push I needed. Every time I got to a part where I thought I couldn't go on, it was your metaphor that got me through. I just kept telling myself to hack through it and come back later to make it pretty. So, thanks!!!

Myrna Foster said...

I didn't meet last week's goal, either. And I forgot to write next week's (50 pages) when I linked. I'm trying to finish up a revision, so the word count goal didn't work out quite right.

I don't let other people read my first drafts either. I think that hearing criticism at that point would kill or at least seriously wound my enthusiasm, and who needs that on a first draft? Sometimes I'll let someone read a snippet--you know those snippets that you keep messing with even though you're supposed to be moving on and finishing--and get feedback on that.

Jes said...

Alysa, I didn't mean that the story was awful because of its raw, zero-draft-iness. I meant I realized I didn't actually like the story. I want to break up with it, stop seeing it, see other stories. I wonder if that's typical, or if it's a sign to move on to younger, cuter stories.

Sophia said...

@Jes Don't give up yet! Back away from the shiny new ideas!

I'm happy to say I have kept up with my 1,667 daily word count for 17 consecutive days. My goal is to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month which I will achieve if I just keep up what I'm doing.

I have to say the last two days I haven't looked forward to getting those words done first thing in the morning; that comes of staying up 'late' the night before or else having other fun things tugging at my mind rather than any real dislike of the writing itself. I just tried to remember how good it feels to have my 'work' done first thing in the morning and the rest of the day stretching out before me, empty and inviting without that word count hanging over my head.

As for whether I'm doing a zero draft, considering I've never even finished a first draft before I'm really not worrying about numbering the various drafts and thinking of who I'm writing it for. At this stage I would just be happy for a *completed* draft, even if it is rough and choppy and (insert tempest toss'd sea metaphor here). As long as it has a beginning, a middle and an end I'll have achieved something.

Yat-Yee said...

The idea of Draft Zero is simply brilliant.

Didn't meet my goal. Wrote 1892 words instead of the 3000 that I had planned.

But something did happen last week that can be big or small, depending on ... a lot of things. (Yes, thanks for asking, I will try to be more vague.) This either big or small thing requires that I go back to an earlier novel that I thought was finished, and revamp. I've worked out 6 major threads that I need to tackle, so this week's goal is to
1)finish identifying all the passages for each thread, and
2)complete the main thread.

Jennie Bailey said...

Jes - I am incredibly stubborn so I keep plugging right through. If I'm having a morning where I don't feel like facing what I'm writing, I skip forward in my handwritten or "notes" on my computer and write a scene that I am really excited about. This usually gets me back into the story. The other thing I do is write the teens in my teen club (I have a nonprofit). I don't always send them the emails. They are incredibly excited about my story idea and the snippets they have read here and there as I flesh the story out. They have been a great sounding board for me. I find that just opening a blank email and my mind can help move me forward tremendously as well. It's my go to when I get stuck. I would hang in there, but that is just me (like I said, stubborn). You loved this idea to begin with so there must be some merit to it. You might even want to take a morning to brainstorm, just fun creative brainstorming to get you unstuck and excited again.

I hit my first five chapters and am moving on. I started to go back and edit, but had to stop myself. Forward, girl, forward. No looking back! Get that ZERO draft out of your head and you can tweak it later. My blog has been a great place to start the morning or go to when I'm feeling stuck. It's fun to be silly there where it is safe. I can start the creative juices flowing there while my coffee kicks in!

Happy writing everyone! Good luck this week! You can do it!

Mary Alexandra agner said...

I did meet my goal and I am very surprised but it also feels good. I have written so little the past few months that this is dizzy-making. To top that off, I'm going to sit down and start a Zero Draft right now. Laini, I would bottle and share this if I could. Thanks, again, for the motivation and inspiration.

Martha Brockenbrough said...

I surprised myself by almost tripling my goal. And I realized works well for me to make easy goals. I get a real lift from exceeding them. It seems like such a shame to make any progress and consider it failure--words are words. They all count.

Good luck, everyone!

jenn said...

Okay, I crashed and burned this week writing goal wise. I knew it would be a tough goal for me because I was away all week on a romantic vacation with my sweetie, which is why I made my goal 5000 words which I thought would be conservative and doable, but I'm not sure I even managed half of that. I did rework one chapter and jotted down notes on changes I want to make to a future scene, and a rough draft of a new scene, so that's better than nothing. And did I mention I was on a romantic vacation? So. . . yeah, that kind of took over priority-wise. But this week, even though I'm now preparing for a house guest for the weekend, I am back in the saddle and expect myself to be writing every day and to have worked through at least 5 more chapters by next Wednesday.

You all are inspiring me! Whether you're reaching your specific goals or not, just hearing about all the effort put forward is very motivating.

Faith Pray said...

Thanks for this kick. I know it sounds feeble, but I'm aiming for three good hours on revisions this week, added up between kid-free moments.

Beverley BevenFlorez said...

I'm going to remember that Zero Draft reference. So apt!

Megan said...

I didn't make my goal this week, alas. (4,608/5,000 words, so I'm not that upset.) It sounds a bit mean, but reading that you didn't make your goal either rather cheered me up. Not that I'm happy you didn't reach it! Just that it's encouraging for those of us who haven't made our goals either. I hope I don't sound bad, haha. We'll do well this week. :) Good luck to everyone!

Bets said...

Zero draft is brilliant... I want to revise to Frankenstein my first writings as well. Argh.

Molly Hall said...

I have been working on a zero draft and I was having a hard time loving it. I kept comparing it to its "big sister" - the more fully formed manuscript that was looking haughtily at my zero draft from across the room in her little folder. Not a good thing for motivating me to finish the sad little half-baked novel I was trying to hammer out. That doggone Almost-Done draft distracted me and yanked me over to her. It's so so good to remember that you just have to Get. It. Down. Then you are free to do all the eyelash transplanting or cutting or adding or transforming you need to do. Thanks for always giving us such empathetic, funny insights into the process of writing. You ALWAYS inspire me.

Sarah said...

Bad writing week for me, too. I only wrote 4000 out of my 10,000 goal. Argh. Have a more realistic goal for the coming week and am also planning to write every single day (to keep up momentum). Good luck everyone!

ChristyG said...

Laini, you're amazing. Loving the Zero Draft idea. I'm also getting so much out of your "Not A Robot" blog. I also didn't meet my goal of finishing my next two chapters - I just ended up doing bits and bobs of rewriting (I totally know the "mind flap" idea of which you speak!) and some on my next chapters. *sigh* We'll see how this week goes...

Laini Taylor said...

Hi all! So wonderful to see the conversations going on here. I'm going to jump in belatedly:

Debbie, 1000 words is still 1000 words, and I'm the same way with beginnings -- I rewrite beginnings a million times before I feel ready to move on into the body of the novel.

Jes (and I see you've gotten lots of feedback on your question), there is normal frustration with a w.i.p., and then there is hating a w.i.p. It is just not the case that everything we start is the thing we must finish. Some books are duds. Though I may preach a "habit of completion," maybe finishing every single thing you start is a little like marrying every single boy you date. Not reasonable. There are some bad dates! If you truly loathe to work on your story, it may just not be the story you should be working on. Writing may not be fun all the time, but there should be the seeds of love in there somewhere. I mean, if you have a pattern of loving something up till a certain point and then abandoning it, that's bad and needs to be examined, but if it's a particular project that just is not lighting your mind on fire in any way, maybe you should give yourself permission to move on to a "newt" (New Weird Thing), one you can't WAIT to get to each day! Check out the Heather Sellers book Page After Page (or something like that) -- she talks about nurturing the writing process so that it's like a love affair, how you never dread going to see the one you love, etc, how it's all-consuming, passionate, and how writing can/should be like that too. It's something I'm chasing in my own writing! Perhaps there needs to be a whole post on this topic soon :-) Let me know what you decide to do!

Alysa -- yay!

Ez -- ah, a fellow deleter. Yes, isn't it a lovely feeling when you have LESS words at the end of the day that you started with? Ha ha!

Johari -- go go go! You can do it!!! And I'm SO GLAD Not For Robots helped you! *smiles*

Myrna -- yeah, there comes a time when I need validation, even though the ms isn't ready to be read, so I'll give somebody something, some part I'm proud of, so they can make much of me and I can feel talented and special, and then get back to work!

Laini Taylor said...

Sophia -- you're an inspiration. 17 days in a row!!! And thank you for quoting me, ha ha! I'll have to reread that post :-)

Yat-Yee -- good luck on your mysterious big or small thing :-)

Jennie -- the email thing is a great idea. A writer I heard at a conference talked about writing an "Aunt Mildred letter" or something, where you address your writing TO someone (pref. sympathetic someone), and that the act of writing to them quiets your inner-perfectionist down so you can work from a different part of your brain. It's kind of like my Working Doc trick.

Mary Alexandra -- yay you!!!!! It's SUCH a wonderful feeling, isn't it? Better even than bottling the feeling, figure out how to bottle the confidence/perseverance to get to that feeling on one's own. You'd be a millionaire :-)

Martha -- AWESOME! (And see you soon!!!! And congrats on the finally final contract etc etc. Yay, AALB sistah!)

Jenn -- that you wrote ANYTHING on a romantic trip is amazing. Where did you go?

Laini Taylor said...

Fatih -- it is good to be realistic; see Martha's strategy above. Otherwise, you just end up feeling like you failed. Good luck!

Beverly -- I know; it's so good!

Megan -- I'd consider that meeting your goal. What's a few hundred words? Good job. And I'm with you -- I take total pleasure in knowing I'm not the only slacker out there.

Bets -- ha ha, I know. It's a powerful urge.

Molly -- thank you! And I know where you're coming from. Sometimes we NEED to open our earlier, more polished work to remind ourselves that all of our sentences are not full of "suddenly" and "Her eyes widened in surprise" and other overused, pat phrases. (I way overuse eye reactions in my first drafts. my characters are forever widening or narrowing their eyes in response to whatever. Eesh.) It fortifies us to get back . . . on the ostrich :-)

Sarah -- 4000 is still awesome!

Christy -- I'm so glad :-)

Cheers, everyone!

Louise said...

I didn't manage to even post my comment here on the right day...but better late than never, I'm thinking! It's so encouraging reading all your comments and knowing we're not alone in our struggles!! I have to say Laini, your image of 'hacking through the jungle' has really helped me too.
I got through 5,640 words this week but there were days when I didn't write anything new at all because I got so caught up in worrying about whether or not the 'dead body' in my W.I.P. should be transmuted to just 'in a coma in hospital'....which is all really stupid to worry about in draft zero...isn't it?!!
As far as my goal of having a blog up by end of March...I got as far as thinking about have failed miserably in that repect. Don't know why I'm so afraid of it.
Jes,good luck with your story, whatever you decide.
And thanks so much, Laini, for the March Mini-Nano (-:

Faith E. Hough said...

I finished my draft #1! And began revising...but I feel like a slacker when I'm not really writing, so in addition to revising, my goal for next week is to write 1,000 on my Zero draft of my new book. (I love that Terry Pratchett interview, too. :)Thanks for reminding me.)

Hoontah said...


You are just the coolest author/person. Could you send some of that energy my way?

Amber said...

I LoooOOOve the Zero draft idea. That is what I'm on. lol


Elena said...

A Draft Zero sounds like a great idea to help throw out ideas - kind of like free-writing. Then you can delete it and never look back - but you now know a little more of what you want.

Thanks once again for sharing!

jenn said...

Thanks, Laini. :) We went to Maui for a blissful week that now feels more like a dream memory. But I have pictures and sand in my handbag to remind me that it really happened.

johanna Wright said...

Yahoo! Thanks for the inspiration, Laini! I'm going to try to get through the first half of the Rotten story, once and for all! said...

Thanks so much for the inspiration, Laini! After talking with Johanna, I've taken to using a timer set for 10 minutes daily. Anyone can write for ten minutes. Then, I just keep going from there, 'til I've written 1,000 or more words.

Good luck to you!

yokohamamama said...

wow--write a whole draft and then delete it? That reminds me of knitters in China who, in order to wash a wool sweater, unravel the whole thing, wash the wool, dry it, then re-knit the sweater. They feel, apparently, that you just can't wash wool any other way.Lovely post, btw. Ann Foxlee's sis in Japan here--she linked to your post. Seems we've all missed the bus the last few weeks--I, for my part, blamed the Olympics. Pity those only come along every 4 years...