Surprise: Your Draft is a Zero

Hold on a minute. I didn’t say the draft was terrible. I said it was a “zero.”

That is totally different … and useful to understand.

I found this idea in the pages of the late great Peter Drucker, venerable founder of modern management, in an essay of his called “Know Your Time.”

The essay is about effective management, especially how people manage themselves. At one point Drucker says that managers spend time writing “zero drafts” as part of the writing process … and that idea is helpful for any writer to understand.

Very often (I am speaking from total experience here) what happens during the writing process is this: You come to the end of a draft, think you’re done, and realize you’re dissatisfied with the whole thing … except for a few sentences near the end where things really started to fuse and get interesting. Instead of being done with the process, you realize, you’re just getting started. It just took 15,000-20,000 fricken words to get there.

That’s your zero draft.

calculator zero long

It doesn’t mean the material is useless or valueless. It has immense value. It has helped you dump all those expectations and preconceived notions so that you’re ready to produce something truly in your voice. (And plenty of that material will probably crop up in your finished draft somewhere anyways– you’ll just use it in a different way).

On the road to finishing my first novel A Walker in the Evening, I probably created three zero drafts (maybe more, it’s all a blur now). It was a long, painful apprenticeship. But I learned a lot. If you aren’t sure if you’re working with a zero draft or not, let me know. I can help.

The most important thing, my best beloveds, is not to get frustrated or to doubt yourself. You’re on the right path. The result is going to be amazing … and worth the extra sweat.

Keep going. You can do it.

2 thoughts on “Surprise: Your Draft is a Zero

  1. Love the new everything, Nick! What you say is so, so true. That zero draft, the several zero drafts are all about clearing your throat, getting ready to speak. And so hard to think about because it seems like such a waste. But no one knows just when the “real” stuff will show up, so you’ve got to be there with the intent that at some point, it WILL show up. Cheers!

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