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Zero Draft vs. First Draft?

What the difference and why it matters

By Barbara KingPublished 15 days ago 5 min read
Zero Draft vs. First Draft?
Photo by Elisa Calvet B. on Unsplash

Everyone begins their novel with a first draft… 

Or do they?

Just like there are lots of ways to get your novel across its finish line there are actually many ways to begin one as well.

But if the first draft is first? What could possibly come before that?

The zero draft. 

What is a zero draft?

A zero draft is a very - very rough draft sometimes also called a fast draft or dirty draft because that's exactly how it's written. 

Fast and dirty (messy.) Think, NaNoWriMo novel at the end of November. 30 days of fast-paced writing does not make for a very clean novel. 

A first draft to some implies that it is a readable draft - while a zero draft doesn't have to be and can be as messy as possible. It doesn't even have to be complete.  

It means many things to different writers. Some believe a zero draft is just where they put all their ideas about their novel while others consider it the place where they first attempt to put their story in what they think is going to be some semblance of a story-like thing. 

But whatever version of a zero draft you write is what works best for you. You can have this draft be as concrete or vague as you wish. Your characters don't even have to have names yet if you haven't wanted to think about that part of the story yet. 

You may be thinking that all of that sounds like what you already do and that's fine as well. Call it what you want. A first draft or a zero draft.  

To me, a zero draft means an imperfect way of telling the story to get it over and done with to get on to the next stage of the process.

How To Write A Zero Draft 

If you've been struggling to get through that first draft of your story you might want to consider a zero draft where you just put the pen to the page and get through the story just to get anything and everything you know about it done on the page. 

Here are three things to do to help you with your zero draft. 

Set a deadline and just get writing. 

The whole point of the zero draft is that it should not take you any longer than maybe a few months, roughly 3–4 to get it onto the page. There is no reason this draft should be taking you more than a year to write. 

Setting a deadline makes it much more likely that you aren't going to just let this draft gather dust or fade from your mind. A deadline gives you something clear to focus on and for the best results, there should be a little reward waiting for you on the other end. 

(A trip to the bookstore and a new book is always a wonderful reward.)

Plan ahead

The last thing you want to happen is to begin writing but have all writing come to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle because you don't know where you're supposed to be going next. 

You don't have to plan out every single detail of your story, but make sure you know what you are writing toward such as knowing where you begin, what events happen in the middle, and where things need to end. 

My best tip for fast drafting would be to write a one or two-sentence description of what happens in each chapter so that when you get to it you know exactly what you're going to write as well as keeping the events of the story connected. 

Word sprints

If you want to make sure that you are getting the words in and not overthinking each aspect then the best way to do this is with writing sprints. 

Set a timer for ten minutes, twenty minutes or however long you have to write, and well-write. 

From the moment that timer starts until the moment it starts ringing out, your hands should be moving across your keyboard or making their way across the page. 

Writing sprints are a great practice to add to your writing routine as they help you limit distractions and procrastination by giving you a set time to focus. 


Zero drafts don't have to be the length of a book as they typically fall between 30,000 and 40,000 words. 

The whole point of this draft is to just get the story out of you, it is even possible that you will only take bits and pieces of this draft and add them to your novel, but the process does not go to waste as you can learn much about your charters and the story you want to be telling. 

No go on and get to writing. 

With love, 

B.K. xo xo


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This story was originally posted on Medium.

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About the Creator

Barbara King

Barbara King is a full-time writing coach and novelist. King is a recent college graduate from Southern New Hampshire University where she earned her BA in Creative Writing.

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  • Mark Graham14 days ago

    To me a zero draft could be a form of an outline in a way except instead of points there are paragraphs.

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