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What "Draft" Are You On?
Two writers walk into a bar. One writer looks at the other writer and asks, ‘what draft are you on?’ The other writer turns to the barman and orders a double scotch on the rocks. The end.
Okay, not my best bar joke, but I hope you get my meaning here. The age-old question of which draft a writer is currently on can be really frustrating to answer and even harder to explain. Similar to an outline, no two writers will operate under the same draft rules. That is to say, there are no draft rules. I’ve seen some writers who’ll show they are on their twentieth draft?! ‘Tis true. ‘Tis true. So, before I go over some of the more common approaches to various draft types and what exactly they mean to us weird and misunderstood writers, I want to shine a light on those who take drafting to a whole new level! I salute the writer who has more than five drafts of their manuscript and is alive to tell the tale, still moving forward, undeterred by the fact that they will likely have yet another draft, and another and another before satisfaction of completion is met.
Here are some of the more commonly used drafts that writers will say they are on. And if you’re a reader with a friend who is a writer, this might prove especially helpful to you, because there are some drafts where a writer is just not inclined to share it. Readers (and friends of writers) tend to have a one-track mind when it comes to writers and wanting the thing now. Impatience is not a virtue that writers enjoy having to deal with. So, pay attention to the draft name and if it says “DON’T ASK” then that means, plain and simple: DON’T ASK!
ROUGH DRAFT (aka VOMIT DRAFT) - DON’T ASK
This is the time when fun is happening. The writer is taking that nugget of an idea and committing it to paper. It might not make much sense or be structured in a way that the average reader could understand. But wow! Having words on the page is so satisfying. Especially, when those words culminate into an ending of the story you wanted to tell for so long. Nothing short of publishing it later for all the world to read can bring that kind of joy to a writer. But remember, this is a rough draft so it’s not perfect by any means.
I’ve also recently heard this draft referred to as the “zero draft” from watching the N.K. Jemisin’s MasterClass. I like this naming convention as well as it signifies that it’s not at a place for viewing/reading. Everything starts from nothing so why not start from zero?
FIRST DRAFT / SECOND DRAFT - MAYBE ASK
It’s tricky to pinpoint what to call this draft. Some writers will consider their Rough Draft the First Draft and therefore any draft they work on after that is considered the Second Draft. And then there are other writers who prefer the Rough Draft not to be numbered at all and therefore any draft that follows it will be the First Draft. You decide which way you want to go.
And whatever your decision is, just remember what this draft is. This is the one you’ve self-edited. Meaning, you poured over your Rough Draft and corrected typos, issues with punctuation and grammar. You’ve read it over at least once and done your level best to find mistakes and fix them. Even if it’s doing something as simple as turning on spell check on whatever word processing software you’re using.
A friend might ask to read what you’ve got when you’re in the middle of or completed this draft. You might feel inclined to share it with them because you’ve worked on it and you know it’s much better than it was in its original state. However, I will throw up one caution here. I think it’s best when dealing with any draft that isn’t your final draft, that you only share it with those from whom you’ll be getting helpful and actionable feedback. I say this because you want the time you’re spending to get your draft to the finish line to be well spent. And as great as it might feel to have someone, even a friend who is likely to be gentle in their thoughts on it, read your work, remember it is far from done. That doesn’t mean you should ask your friend to be a beta reader and give you feedback. Worse idea. It just means, be mindful of who you share your manuscript with before it’s final or published because every moment of editing and improvement counts.
BETA DRAFT - DON’T ASK
This is a draft that you’ve cleaned on your own to the best of your ability. You’ve put it through programs like Grammarly or ProWritingAid and you sit with your manuscript and read it cover to cover at least once. There will likely be errors you’ve missed, but that is to be expected. The key here is that this version you are handing off to beta readers for feedback is as good as it can be considering you may not be a professional editor.
Along with the draft you might consider tagging on some questions the reader should be thinking about and willing to answer when they are done, just to make sure you receive as much helpful feedback as possible.
And once you get all that wonderful feedback from every single beta reader you sent your manuscript to, and put all the notes together and action the most important ones, can you consider this a fully completed beta draft!
You’ve actioned your beta reader stuff. And you may have gone back through Grammarly and ProWritingAid just to make sure you fixed everything you could. Now it’s time for the nail-biting fun to begin. You send your manuscript off to an editor. Some writers have more than one editor that they might use before the beta and then another after the beta process.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m supposing you have one editor and they will be performing a combination of editing and proofreading for you. Similar to a copy/line editor with a sprinkle of developmental editing. These kinds of editors do exist and they can either be more cost-effective or more costly, depending on who you find and how good they are. Shop around. Just make sure you don’t skip the editor draft!
Now you wait for their notes and red pen comments to come back. This can take weeks or months, depending on the timeline you two worked out ahead of time. You will spend time going over those notes and actioning things and accepting changes, etc. Time-consuming, but worth it.
GAMMA DRAFT/FINAL DRAFT
The final draft often isn’t the final draft. Your editor, however professional they may be, is also human and not infallible. Meaning, they can miss a word or typo here and there as well.
Too many of us will think the final draft is final and that’s that. Upload it into Amazon KDP, set a publish date, and move on. But I feel a crucial step should be taken before that publish date is set. Get yourself some gamma readers. You can read more about what a gamma reader is HERE. But once you go through a gamma reader pass, then you can say you’ve hit that elusive final draft!
However many rounds of drafts you choose to go through, always remember the fact that you finished a draft. That is a huge deal. Even if it’s just the vomit draft and you’ve been self-editing that thing for longer than you care to admit. You are working on a finished manuscript! Many people would kill to have at least that. But if you go the distance and polish it till it’s as good as showroom new? That’s an even bigger accomplishment and deserves high praises.
Now, go off and celebrate! You have done an amazing thing. Celebrate for a while, too! Cause soon and I mean very soon you’ll feel the itch and desire to do it all over again!