The Death of Drafting

Modern technology has, for some, made the traditional drafting process obsolete. Luke Edley argues that we should not mourn for it.

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It may well be something many writers won’t agree with, but I for one am glad to see the death of drafting. Drafting, as we all know, is the process by which we write (and re-write) stories, honing and perfecting it to a good enough standard before finally deeming them finished. That process will probably never change, to be fair. I’m not saying anything you can write is good enough – writing a novel remains as difficult as it ever was, so you still have to work extremely hard to get from A to Z.

So what exactly do I mean when I suggest that drafting has died? Well, put simply, the modern world has made the old-fashioned process of drafting fairly obsolete. In the old days, ancient drafts of a novel could be found in discarded ring-binders; scraps of paper hint at what might have been; old type-written chapters sit collecting dust on a bookshelf; and notepads full of prose-in-progress and fragments of dialogue offer echoes of a story long in gestation.

For me, the idea of writing in this old-fashioned way is a distant dream. We’re now living in a technologically-advanced world where aspiring authors write the latest chapter of their novel in the Notes app on their iPhone while taking the tube to work, editing and self-editing on the go. As a result, the lines between craft and the finished article have blurred. There is no version one, or version two, or version three, there is only the latest update downloaded from your writerly data centre (i.e. your brain), its latest installation overriding your older one(s) and improving your creative CPU for the better. That’s how I ‘draft’ my stories, if you can even call it that.

© 2016 Luke Edley / Used With Permission

© 2016 Luke Edley / Used With Permission

There is no time to save old, inferior outpourings masquerading as ‘better’ instalments of my story. Even cloud-based storage offered by the likes of Google Docs or Office 365 eliminate the need to keep early drafts of your novel – sure, you could ‘Track Changes’ in Word if you want to keep on top of all the subsequent edits you make to your story as you write it, but I find this makes the process unbelievably messy. It’s far better, in my opinion, to just make the changes upon reading and re-reading your work, proofing it and making necessary changes the more often you revisit it. So drafting is alive and well, in this sense, it’s just I’m more conscious of its impermanence.

This basically means that, when I write, there is no particular drafting process at play at all. Drafting, in the traditional sense of the word (as a means of keeping a trail of breadcrumbs leading me back to the creative sandwich board) is dead. The only drafting process I abide by now is a purely creative but ever-changing one, so my ‘final’ version is just that: final. At least until I decide it’s not ‘final’ enough when I sit down and have another look at it later.

Basically, things change, so if amendments happen to be made to my story, the older, unaltered version of it will cease to be. I don’t keep it. I don’t save multiple copies of the same Word document of my novel to trace the full evolution of my story. After all, homo sapiens don’t mourn for Australopithecus, so why should I mourn for an inferior version of a story I see as much-improved as a result of my later interventions?

Let’s face it, despite all this technology we’re still surrounded by the written word. In this day and age, social media comments on Facebook posts are unedited splurges of text, bursts of unprompted self-expression by our peers. All I see myself as doing is applying that same principle of spontaneity to my writing, albeit with considerably more discipline and heavy doses of self-criticism. I have no time for a strict regime of drafting and re-drafting, either on paper or in multiple saved copies of the same story on my hard drive – what matters most to me is getting it finished. So if that means changing and amending the same story as I write it, either on my iPhone, or iPad, or desktop, then so be it. I just save over the old one.

Perhaps the downside of all this is that I can’t evidence the long and convoluted creative path I’ve taken to take my story from beta to full demo mode, but to be honest I haven’t found myself mourning the death of drafting yet. In my opinion, it’s all about embracing the technology we have to hand and applying our creative writing skills to a more modern way of doing things – write, edit, save, repeat. Writing in this way allows me to see creativity as something fleeting – restless, transient, ever-changing – so on this count, nothing has changed. I am still honing, creating, and perfecting my story, but drafting is dead in its traditional form and I would encourage other writers to take the same stance. Life is too short. If you agree, join with me and let’s say it together: Drafting is dead. Long live drafting.

Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.

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