What is a wild draft?

4 minute read
Author: SarahWHQ

What is a wild draft? It’s the draft that you vomit out of your brain to get everything you know about the story out of that wrinkly think-sphere and into the world. The one where you set yourself an absurd goal, such as 1,000 words a day for 30 days, or 500 words a day for 20 days, or 2,000 words a day for 45 days, or whatever feels right for you, just to get the dang thing down.

See: Kazuo Ishiguro writing Remains of the Day. After struggling with it for a year and getting nowhere, he cleared a four week space in his diary and wrote morning till night, spewing every piece of crap onto the page, getting all the ideas down no matter how poorly. By the end, he says, he had the entire book. Although it naturally required an enormous amount of work from that point, he nevertheless had the meat of the thing in his hands.

Look, we’re huge fans of planning here at WHQ, but also stories are a kind of magic – whole universes created from a handful of sparky neurons. Magic, as we know, comes from a sack of bile attached to a witches heart, and doesn’t always obey the laws of plotting and planning. Sometimes you have to put down the post-it note walls and schematics and spreadsheets and lists, connect to everything that’s going on inside you, and write your little socks off.

Does that sound like a first draft? Eh. Well. This is the biggest question in novel writing: what even constitutes a first draft?

It seems to be a pretty nebulous concept. Some people say it’s the draft you have in which the entire story is told in order, complete with every beat and plot point – which sound suspiciously like a final draft. Others think it’s just about getting from the beginning to the end, even if the middle is 20,000 characters worth of question marks. At WHQ, we occasionally advocate for the zero draft – the draft you have that’s beyond shit and you don’t want to honour with the recognition of First Draft.

All of which seems like a very complicated way of saying ‘we do a this thing over and over again, starting at the shit end and moving gradually towards the good end’.

Even Matt Bell’s brilliant Refuse to be Done explains writing a novel in three drafts, but each of the three drafts is made up of multiple other drafts. Which is fine! It’s great! It’s a fantastic, genuinely transformational book! But what does a draft mean!?

At WHQ we’ve taken to describing each sweep through the manuscript as some kind of Swiftian Era (that’s Taylor, not Jonathan). I’m in my wild era, my outlining era, my word building era.

Rather than worrying about draft V0.3 or whether you have enough plottyplot to constitute a real first draft, or any other such thing, you simply give the current chunk of your project a name.

  • The outline draft
  • The detailed outline draft
  • The wild draft
  • The world building draft
  • The draft focussing on Sandra and her pets
  • The themes and motifs draft

Is it going to make your novel writing suddenly super easy? Eh, probably not. Is it going to help you hold together all the different ideas in a slightly neater and more cohesive way? Absolutely!

Think here’s draft 1.3 in which I try to do, err, everything, versus here’s the outline draft in which I focus on getting a broadly outline of what I’m trying to do or here’s the world building draft where I focus on building a realistic world and linking that to what’s happening in the story.

Each time you sweep through your project, you have a different goal or focus and the name of the draft literally reminds you what you’re doing every time you open it.

And that’s it. The wild draft. The ultimate culmination of everything we believe so fervently in: stop fucking about and start writing.


Isn’t this just like NanoWrimo?

Sure, except you do it anytime you like with any word count you like over whatever period of time you like where ever you are in the process. So also sort of no.

That’s it. That’s the only FAQ. So. You know what to do. Go write.

Join us for the Wild Draft Challenge in June! Part of the Writers’ HQ Write A Novel Month >>

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