I have a simple process for filing my in-process work: I name it by the keywords found in its title. If the work is on its way to the final stages in my editorial process, those keywords serve as a reminder of the topic and help me to figure out how it fits into my editorial calendar. If the work is still in draft stage, i.e., it isn’t ready for another stages besides the initial writing one, the file name demarcates that: word-word-draft.
The process isn’t complicated, but it gives me a visual reminder as I look at my body of work. It tells me which pieces are almost there and which ones aren’t. It tells me which pieces need to be revisited. That decision, however, is not always easy.
It isn’t easy because some of those drafts are a single line. It’s a promising line, but it’s an individual one. It has yet to gain the power or momentum it needs to turn into something full-fledged. Some of those drafts may concern topics with which I’m still wrestling. I have yet to find a way to translate those restless thoughts into something that coheres – an act that often happens when writing but sometimes not.
I could ignore those drafts – I have plenty of other topics to occupy my time – but I don’t. I know that the hard work needs to be put in on those drafts either as a way to challenge my skills as a copywriter or to force me to work through whatever mental or emotional block I have. The drafts can’t always be left to stew even though they sometimes are. That decision, too, is angst-ridden; recognizing when it’s time to move on from a subject because it truly is going nowhere is not a thing for the faint of heart.
It’s equally true that imposing the limits set forth by those drafts forces me to explore different ways of thinking and writing about things. It’s one reason I advocate writing exercises. They force the writer to go into unknown territory. The trick with working with those exercises or those drafts is to not become too committed to the initial idea or line. Those things are starting points not end products. I have to let those points go where they want to go. The only way to do that is to work through my preconceived ideas and to write and write and write and write. I then sometimes find something else, and, like I said, it often is not the thing with which I started. It has been transformed because of the effort I put into the work. That means the original draft or exercise still stands and may have to be revisited at a future date, but that is alright. It gives me another starting point, and I will take one of those over predetermined endings any day.
What about you? What do you do with your rough drafts?
Image: Mark Hunter (CC BY NC 2.0)