Writing a Novel with the Loose Draft

Today, let’s talk about loose drafting, a writing strategy that is a mix of plotting and pantsing. But first, personal history that you can skip if you want to.

Creative Delays

My many years I’ve made excuses as to why I’m not writing.

In high school, I was consumed by my AP classes and extracurricular activities. I wrote for myself when I had to because I was about to burst.

In college, I generally wrote and read for the sake of assignments. I was overwhelmed with my mental health issues and my new chronic illnesses, which left me little enough time and energy for school.

In the several years since I graduated, I’ve made additional attempts at writing regularly, much to my increasing frustration and decreasingly convincing excuses. In fact, I’ve made so little progress that I’ve questioned how much I actually want this. Because, you know, they say that you make time for the things you really want, and I was actually trying to make time for writing and still hadn’t produced a full draft.

Still, I’ve concluded that I do want to write books. I just have struggled to figure out a method that works for me.

Plotters and Pantsers and All That

I’ve gone back and forth with outlines and free drafting only to end up frustrated time and time again.

When I just write freely, with only vague plot ideas and characterizations in my head, I end up re-writing the beginning chapters over and over and over. As the story and the world develops, the chapters I initially write become increasingly useless. I need to go back and add or remove details. Whole scenes cease to be necessary. I get nowhere. I’m ridiculously inefficient and unmotivated.

I’ve also tried being an architect, otherwise known as a plotter. I’ve downloaded outlines from the internet, filling in information about what could happen at which points, making sure that I hit all the right beats, and generally make sure I have some idea of where I’m going.

But the most I can muster with this approach is the general outline that’s already in my head. The details that will come to me later and upend the entire book don’t come to me when I outline, and my creativity hibernates.

Either way, I end up very frustrated.

Loose Drafts

So here I’ve been, stuck. Trying and revising for several years only to end up four chapters in to a novel I keep overhauling. I’m not inspired so much as annoyed.

But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve discovered loose drafting, and it’s changing everything. I’m sure other people do this, but I don’t remember hearing anyone describe it before, so I don’t know what they call it.

For me, a loose draft is not a manuscript or even a proper draft. It’s also not an outline or a beat sheet or a storyboard or a summary.

A loose draft is just me telling the story to myself on paper, rambling for pages and pages as though I’m taking an hour to describe a book I just read to my mom.

A loose draft has no proper prose, let alone consistency. Sometimes I just say “and then this happens,” and sometimes I provide excruciating detail about what the characters eat for dinner. I rearrange my thoughts, make notes about characters’ feelings and motivations, add in things earlier in the draft when a later scene I want doesn’t make sense, and glory in the rambling mess.

Characters, setting, and plot all develop as they would with a pantsed draft, but I don’t spend forever writing the story for reals only to have them change on me three scenes later.

I haven’t finished a full loose draft yet, so it remains to be seen how I do with it. I’m fairly sure that after I finish, I’ll turn this loose draft into a very detailed, color-coded outline that I’ll use to write a lasting first draft.

But even if this process doesn’t work out exactly as I expect, the loose draft has freed me to discover the story as I create it, and it doesn’t take so much time to create that I have to undo my work over and over again as the story develops.

I am very happy with this arrangement so far.

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