In days of yore, when drafts were all handwritten and paper (or vellum as it was then) was precious, writers scraped down and erased their early drafts so that they could reuse the physical material. Drafts show intent and growth, giving clues to how ideas and themes form.
Drafts can also show us where and when story elements or ideas change.
Whether you are a writer or a small business owner, saving drafts of your work becomes essential, especially with AI programs like ChatGPT all the rage. Not only do your drafts show you the amount of effort you had to input into the program to get what you wanted, but they showcase your own value as a writer when you can show what the machine produced and then what you did to make it work.
Then, we also have the example of our writer of the month: Virgil.
The same Virgil who ordered all his drafts burned upon his death until Caesar Augustus posthumously overruled him. Thank goodness, too. The Aeneid would be unknown to us now if Virgil’s wishes had been carried out.
ChatGPT is the perfect example of how saving your drafts can actually save you time.
If you experiment with ChatGPT, you’ll notice that it keeps a record not only of all your input, but of any revisions you ask it to make. Essentially, it’s doing the drafting for you so that you can gol in and customize it the way you want. Best of all, you can see the progression of ideas.
This is important for you, the human writer, because, as I have found out, since it saves all of your sessions, you can go back and find material for more content multiple times. If you run your own business, this is invaluable to have in your arsenal.
If AI isn’t for you, then you can still save unwanted material for later. I usually generate blog posts from scratch–little to no AI involved. But, I write more than I actually need. What I don’t use goes into a separate document and then I have a nice little nest egg of content to use for another post.
You never know when that rant you went on when writing for one project may end up being just the thing you need for another one!
How does a writer measure their growth? Publication? Likes? Subscribers?
Having published novels, lots of likes on social media, and thousands of subscribers is always a good ego boost for any creator. But are those actually good metrics to measure your success? If you’re a writer, how do you actually tell if you’re a good one?
Well, that’s where your drafts come in. Do you see a measurable improvement from your first draft to your final draft? If you don’t know, then you don’t have a good way of measuring your own development of your craft. And since writers don’t all have the same number of drafts, how many drafts you have compared to the improvements made is a pretty good indicator!
AI programs respond to prompts–feedback from you on what it has produced. In ChatGPT, that means that unless you ask it to regenerate the response, it will keep what it originally gave you and then improve upon it. It doesn’t throw away the original draft, unless you ask it to Instead, it will go back to that original and continue to make improvements.
Sounds an awful lot like the writing process to me. Only you can actually see in real time the value of keeping your drafts handy. If you can see the development from the original response to the latest, then you can so the same with your own non-AI generated writing.
Part of being an artist of any kind is monitoring your development. Artists and graphic designers have concept drawings. Businesses have KPIs. What do you have as a writer? You have your drafts.
And if you have beta readers who have been reading those drafts, so much the better! That means you’ll have feedback for those drafts, too. Not every writer will have lots of publications to their name, or a large social media following. If you’re just starting out as a writer, you’ll have very little.
Drafts are embarrassing for everyone, so own them!
We’ve all written some pretty cringeworthy stuff. Whether that’s your latest Instagram post, Facebook post, Tweet, blog post, or novel, you have probably written something you look back on and think, I so didn’t know what I was doing! That goes for anyone in business these days. Even writing isn’t part of it.
Anything less than our own definition of perfection can be embarrassing. And we’re tempted to think that no one will want to read that. We see the mistake in our latest post and we instantly delete the post or press “edit” hoping no one will notice. You want to wow your audience and make them feel more connected with you.
Not make them giggle behind their hands or Twitter mob you.
So, on one level, I understand Virgil’s desire to destroy his manuscripts. Thank goodness they weren’t!
If even legendary writers can’t read their own work without cringing, then you are in excellent company! Own your mistakes, or shove them in a file drawer to reference later or to save for after you’re gone and some enterprising reader wants to get closer to your writing process. But don’t let your drafts embarrass you!
Writing is messy, imperfect, and not always aesthetically pleasing.
It’s not this idealized vision we have of someone sitting at their desk, typing primly away chapter by chapter while sipping their coffee in their aesthetically perfect, Insta-worthy life. Your drafts should be evidence of that. Not picture-perfect documents you can put on Instagram with a bunch of filters nestled in a carefully curated scene.
Writing is walking in to your office with paper scattered everywhere because you couldn’t find the notes you made. It’s balling up tens of sticky notes and tossing them into random directions because you can’t stop to tidy while you’re in the zone. It’s hurling pens and pencils down in frustration.
It’s also searching frantically between different tabs and documents to copy, paste, repeat, and reformat while your morning herbal infusion sits cold and forgotten in a corner of your desk at 4 pm. Or staying awake until 10pm, bleary-eyed, tired, and just wanting to hit “publish” and be done with it.
Whether you use AI, pen and paper, a word processor, or even a typewriter, drafts are evidence of our messy, ink-stained existence in this internet-driven environment. They aren’t there to be pretty, they’re there to teach us who we are and our value.
And they also may give us a helping hand down the line if we need more ideas.
Don’t discount your first draft, or your twenty-first. Look at them as evidence of your growth!
Thank you for reading!
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