Creative Process: All hail the Zero Draft!

The act of getting words down as quickly as I can!

Creative Process: All hail the Zero Draft!
Image: Janulla from Getty / Canva

Hello there!

It’s going to be a shorter newsletter today as I am up to my neck in a deadline which is occupying my every waking moment. By Friday, I need to get the Zero Draft done and ready for editing in November.

But, wait… the Zero Draft? What the heckity-heck is that?

It’s a term I’ve picked up from The Dog-Sitter Detective author Antony Johnson (who shared his Perfect Sunday with us back in May.)

It’s the draft that only I will ever see; the roughest, most basic, most error-riddled bonfire of a manuscript that could ever exist. But however much of a disaster it is, the important thing is that it’s written.

It’s all to do with the way I work. I churn. I sit down and write from beginning to end, not stopping to edit or finesse. All that matters is to get the words down on paper and to get nearer to ‘The End.’

As I write, I have a notebook beside me in which I make a long, long list of the things I have to go back and change. This could be specific details to add, names that need to be changed, or tweaks that need to be made to the action. I never go back and make the changes there and then, because that will scupper my forward momentum. I need to keep powering to the end, seeing that word count piling up.

And once I reach the end of the Zero Draft, I let out a sigh of relief, make a celebratory cup of tea and… head back to the beginning and start fine-tuning, ticking elements off that list as I go.

It’s been my preferred method for years, going back to my early days as a magazine journalist, and is the same whatever the medium: prose, scripts, comics, short stories, I splurge and then only edit after I’ve finished. As Antony says on his website, the Zero Draft: “exists purely for me to rewrite, and thus be replaced forever by a better version.”

Of course, not every writer works the same way. As he shared in one of our recent video hangouts, he writes and then edits, writes and then edits, so when he has a completed draft it’s pretty much ready to go off to the editor. SF author is the same, explaining he finds it impossible to go back and do major edits, opting instead to fine-tune as he goes instead.

It’s one of the reasons George tells me that he’s never really got on with the Freewrite typewriter.

My baby

This is the ultimate Zero Draft machine. While you can go back and edit, it largely exists to power you forward, so for me, it’s a godsend. I wrote The Rising Storm, Path of Vengeance, Five Scary Stories for a Dark Knight and Life Day Treasury on my Freewrite and I adore it.

Granted, I only find the typewriter useful when writing prose and my comic process is a little different (which I’ll discuss in more detail in a few week’s time, although paid subscribers can also check out my recent Creating Comics workshop!) but as prose is my least favourite1 medium, I need all the help I can get to keep motivated!

As for this week’s deadline, well, that’s the mother of all audio scripts so I’ll be back on my Mac, thundering away. Wish me luck and also hold me to account! Ask how I’m doing, and check in with me on Friday to see if I’m having that celebratory cuppa!


  1. When I say least favourite, what I mean is that I find it the most difficult. Scripts come naturally to me. Prose is 100% harder meaning I really have to gear myself up to get the words down!