On Drafts

In writing, a draft represents a preliminary piece of text, a place to overcome the fear of the blank canvas. Because of their unfinished nature, drafts aren’t meant to be scary. Instead, they serve as a medium to deliberately propose wild, bad, and even silly ideas, where many is better than good, quantity is still more important than quality, and there is no fear of screwing anything up. The design analogue of the draft is the prototype—a preliminary model to render and discover key aspects of a given design. Early sketches, sculptures, drawings, or even pictures, serve as malleable and playful prototypes which provide artists with valuable hints of a project’s important parts, and help them move toward a final design.

When talking about Shitty First Drafts in Bird by Bird1, Anne Lamott states that “all good writers write them,” and that it isn’t until writers finish a piece that they realize what they were actually doing. “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Says Lamott. To me, the first draft is the moment when the creative gets to play with the details—like a kid squishing into a mound of Play-Doh—careless of mistakes, not at all worried about the form.

In words of Frank Chimero, “[along the creative process] each decision is a response to the last and an opportunity to pivot in a new direction, so the process imposes a beneficial near-sightedness, an inability to see anything clearly other than the next step. But like driving a car at night, a little bit at a time is enough to finish the trip2.” So even without a clear idea of where you are going, by creating and revising and creating and revising, your draft will eventually take you to your destination, to a finished piece of work.

The draft is a tool you can use to safely test all those crazy ideas that might fail but also can help you get past the dreaded blank canvas. Write your ideas down, experiment, shuffle them around, revise and re-write them. And remember to enjoy the draft! Then, when you feel you are close to your final destination, finish, ship, and repeat.