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Drafts: Everything you ever needed to know about writing the “puke-draft”

first draftEvery writer sits down, pours their heart onto the page, bleeds for their words, and then offers them to their readership. This is nothing new. What may surprise you is the amount of work that goes into refining those words. When I was a kid, I used to think that writers like Stephen King plopped down for a few months, spewed a book onto the word processor, and then sent the unedited manuscript to someone else to edit and publish while he rolled around on a mattress covered in hundred dollar bills and gold nuggets.

But that’s not even close to how it works. Any writer worth his or her salt wouldn’t send a first draft to their worst enemy. Writers, for the most part, take a lot of pride in what they do with the craft. Sure, there’s that piece of shit book on Amazon, you’ve seen it; this thing was written like a high school project and should have been burned. But it’s out there complete with a cover created in MS Paint and a review from the author’s mother.

The actual art of writing is different for everyone. For instance, I know that some authors pour over each and every page and paragraph, fixing, and noodling over every nuance before moving onto the next amazing jumble of words. They have a thesaurus, dictionary, and style guide at hand and they use them constantly. Nothing against that at all. I do it when I’m working on a second draft.

Some meticulously plot every detail of every chapter, and then fill in the plot points with paragraphs. Some go into a transitive state of writing where they puke out all of their words in a haze that’s similar to an out of body experience in a Russian whore house. I’m the later kind of writer, minus the Russian whorehouse. (I’ve never been to one but I’m still young.)

I’m not saying that either way is right or wrong. I find, though, that I need to write out my first drafts with very little self editing. It’s like a little demon is perched next to my ear and he’s egging me on to write all of the crazy shit in my head all at once.

I have a special word I use for my first drafts. It’s not something sweet, cuddly, or even clever. I call it: The Puke Draft.

What a Puke Draft boils down to is the stuff I have spewed across the page in a weird daze. Writing 50, 75, or even 150 thousand words is not for the faint of heart. But the fact is my Puke Drafts are not for anyone to see. I’m usually very ashamed of them. I mean I basically wallow in self-pity while I read the utter puke that I’ve committed to the page. Mixed up character names, verb tenses that change from sentence to sentence, misspelled words, mixed up locations, and don’t even get me started on the fucking over use of words like “Rotter, undead, Z, zombie, military, soldier, shambler, deader…” – you get the picture.

My puke drafts are like a piece of art created by a drunk six year old armed with a crayon. There’s no color, depth, or shadow. That has to be coaxed out as I work on the second draft. My very first book, Among the Living, was about 90K words. When I was done with my third or fourth rewrite it had grown to about 110K words as I filled in details, fleshed out characters, and added scenes where needed. By the time my editor was done with her bloody massacre, she’d cut about 10K of those words. It hurt, losing all of those little children I’d sent out in the world but it was for the good of the manuscript, really!

A Puke Draft is a piece of shit. I cannot stress this enough.

bang headWhen writing multiple series it gets even more complicated because I don’t want to sit around with the previous books open looking up gun types, cities, secondary characters, motivations, kills, street names, and the like. I want to write the damn book and get it out of my head.

My first drafts are frequently populated with stuff like:

<some guy from book 1>, <make up some weird disease name>, <city>, <state>, and of course, <some medical stuff here, damn, actually research this>

For instance:

Joel Kelly stared through his EOtech <spelling?> holographic sight. “I think we know this guy. He was in the <city> back when we were <doing some shit from book one>.”

“Yeah, that’s <some douche> from <that one epic scene near the end>. Let’s kill his ass.” Anna Sails said.

You get the idea. I can write that in a few seconds, or I can spend five minutes looking stuff up. I prefer to do that in the next draft when I’m in full editor mode. Being able to take a critical look at my work and fix the kinks while cleaning up all of my notes, means I can get that first draft busted out and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

So those are my quick and dirty thoughts on writing drafts which I will summarize in a TL;DR:

  • Write that shit out
  • Don’t show anyone that shit
  • Fix that shit
  • Fix that shit again
  • Fix that shit again with feeling
  • Consider showing your shit to your turd polisher (editor)

tim drinking morning

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