The Question of First (Or Any) Drafts...

How do you write your "first draft"?

  • All in one file, in sequence
  • In text snippets as the mood strikes, then assemble it in Draft folder
  • Chapter by chapter (scene by scene) and then assemble it
  • I don’t actually write a traditonal "draft"
0 voters

On another topic entirely…

Ah. Now we’re opening a whole new can of ball game.

First Drafts, eh? Well, do you know, I’m not so sure I even DO first drafts. I think what I do is sort of generally fanny about gathering stuff and re-reading my notes and writing bits down and then, with the best will in the world, I just open a new file and (turning to reference materials as I go) write the whole damn thing from beginning to end.

My own Scrivener Zen. is not so much gathering my “product” and then sequencing it, nor drafting and polishing it, but of getting all the background drivelling under one roof. The Draft folder (so far) contains one file, called The Thing.

So I’m curious: how many people write in snippets then weld the snippets together in the Draft folder, and how many use the Draft folder for what would be, back in the day, a single biiiig document?

Pure prurient curiosity, but isn’t that just the best sort?

For shorter pieces (say < 1000 wds), like my regular column, I often just write the draft in one go: a vertical split with the single tidbit I’m drawing from on the left, column itself on the right. But for longer pieces, I do indeed write it in snippets, then rearrange as needed, Edit Scrivenings, then polish.

In fact, I credit Scrivener for changing my process a bit in that regard. It somehow just feels a little easier to write scenes or sections separately than when I did so using an outliner such as OmniOutliner or Mellel’s outliner. I think Scrivener’s framework has made my longer stories easier to organize.

Maybe someday, some poor grad student will undertake a thesis on how software affects writing process or content. Perhaps one conclusion will be that we can blame the recent decline of writing on (pardon the redundancy) the Widespread Omnipresence and Reign of Discombobulation perpetrated by a certain commonly used application.

I tend to write fiction straight through, but I break it out and start a new file per scene. Makes it easy to load earlier scenes into a split and look up a character’s address, which was some random numbers I pulled out of thin air three weeks earlier.

My nonfiction articles I’ll make an index card for each main point that I want to cover, shuffle them around, write the text for the points, shuffle them around more, edit the text, shuffle them around more, then put them all in edit scrivenings and polish the seams out.

All of the above. Different books, different approaches.

My current wip is the one best suited to Scrivener, I think. I’m writing it in non-linear snippets/scenes/scenelets/narrative passages, etc., then assembling it in the order that seems best. When that’s all done, I’ll call it a first draft.

But I’ve also written long novels based on extensive outlines, another all in one file and with no outline whatsoever, so it varies. I don’t limit myself to a single way of doing things.

I use ‘all of the above’, too. My preferred, Scrivener, method produces a richer, multi-layered book, but it takes longer. And if I’m up against a deadline I’ll work straight through, writing a first draft that needs only minor corrections.

At the moment I’m doing a rewrite of one novel – which I’ve finally imported into Scrivener – as well as working on the notes for a new one. I find that Scrivener’s index cards, split screen and annotations are invaluable for editing the first, while the second novel is growing organically in dozens of small scrivenings. There will come a point when its shape and structure, as well as its main themes, will become clear, and then I will probably write straight through from the beginning, fast. And this ‘first draft’ will be very close to the final version that I’ll send to my agent.

I used to fill one or two fat notebooks with ideas and snatches of dialogue before starting to write, but it wasn’t easy to make alterations, or even to find the one I was looking for.

Whatever the outcome of these two projects, I know that working in Scrivener is a lot more enjoyable – pretty, too, with a binder full of tinted icons.


I’ve gone for “Chapter by chapter, scene by scene” because that’s sort of closest to how I do it.

For fiction writing, I start at the beginning of the story and work my way through, creating a new Scrivener document for each block (sort of a sub-chapter), which tends to correspond to a single writing session. Since I’m not usually very clear about what is going to be in a document when I start it, I have a bit of a problem with naming documents. Sometimes I just number them. Sometimes I use a few key words to remind me of the content. I have projects where the documents are all labelled by date of writing, but that’s looking a bit weird now I come to revise them. Hmmm. I need to sort this out.

For non-fiction (my home territory, where I have long-established processes which happen to dovetail beautifully with Scrivener), it depends on the document. For really short pieces (750 words or so), I write in one single document, starting at the beginning and ending at the end, keeping associated research stuff in subfolders in Research, but with lots of jobs in one Scrivener project. Longer stuff I split into loads of documents (one per main point) and I write these in whatever order I can bear to tackle them. Before Scrivener, I used to have loads of temporary headings in these documents so that I could separate out my thoughts/information into logical structures; now I have the luxury of sub-documents for this, which is much more flexible. Really long stuff merits a project of its own.

One of the reasons I like Scrivener so much is that it suits not only the different types of writing that I do, but also the different approaches that I take for different types of material.

You might try using keywords, or labels or document notes in the inspector, or just the synopsis in the outliner or corkboard. I have to admit that I haven’t taken full advantage of Scrivener’s many options here myself, so I’d be interested to know how you and others handle this issue.

I’ve been using Scrivener for less than a month and am exploring various ways of using it. For years I’ve been using Word and WordPerfect for all my journaling, fiction and non fiction. I continue to use Word for my tantra journal which is formatted for daily entries. I am in the process of migrating two other journals—synchronicity journal and spiritual journal—to Journler, which I started using a couple of months ago. I am in the process of seeing how to combine the use of Journler and Scrivener most effectively.

I’m using Scrivener as a way to organize my posts to two online groups, each group being a separate Scrivener project (for now). Each folder in the Draft binder contains a thread and my individual posts.

I am working on a story (in Word) at a leisurely pace and will migrate it to Scrivener when I’m ready to continue. Splitting up the scenes in the Draft binder will work perfectly since that is the way the story is structured and the way that I write.

I have an ongoing spiritual practice that involves meditation, daily reading, taking notes from the readings, and recording observations in the course of daily life. I started recording my random observations in Journler. Notes from the readings are going directly into Scrivener. How to organize the notes in Scrivener has yet to be revealed. I often give brief talks that relate to my spiritual practice and like having these notes at my fingertips. This has already come in handy when sketching a 10-minute talk recently.

I just set up my biggest Scrivener project, a proposal to create a new non-profit spiritual center. Scrivener will work perfectly for this. I set up folders in the Draft binder to match the structure of the proposal: purpose/mission, activities, target customers, staff, facilities, fundraising, budget, PR/marketing, etc. All the research material and support will go into the Research binder. My plan is to write section by section until I complete a preliminary draft which my partner, a priest, will review and edit. You would think that a priest, having gained a measure of wisdom from years of practice, would intuitively know that Mac offers the most advanced platform for spiritual and most other uses. Unfortunately he relies on Windows and sees no reason to switch at this time. This means we won’t be able to collaborate seamlessly within Scrivener. Instead, we’ll be sending Word documents back and forth, a minor nuisance.

Taking a broad view of how to organize and structure writing projects, so far I have resisted buying mapping/diagram programs (e.g., novamind, mindmanager, mymind) or organizational programs (e.g., DevonThink, DevonNote). I’m hoping that Scrivener’s linear corkboard organizer will be good enough. I love moving post-its or index cards around, organizing intuitively rather than linearly, so we’ll see. By the way I often recommend David Straker’s “Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notesâ€

Like sex. Never the same way twice.

Since Scrivener I have amassed stuff relevant to the story and I am surprised how life then provides the material I am looking for.

For example, I needed the heroine to discover that the hero is a very capable guy who can look after himself. Right, so that goes into Scrivener in almost exactly the right place (page 40) as a note. Then later I realise if she is making love to him and discovers a bullet wound… Right that goes in as a note. Later still I realise that he is the kind of guy who is fighting inner demons. That seems a good place to reveal these in a declarative way. But how? That goes in on page 40 because a love scene can do so much at the sub-text level. A week or so later I get a flash - combine humour and something from his shadow world (where the bullet came from). Now he has a past that includes a time in a war zone and his best friend saved his life. Then later still, it hits me, his best friend turns out to be a psychopath who in later life became his boss and was responsible for the deaths of several people whose families the heroine is trying get compensation for - of course, she is a lawyer.

So on and so on … the story gets built in Scrivener layer by layer over time. I guess I use Scrivener to store my ideas and while they are located in approximately the right places in my story template I interrogate the hell out of them. Wait. Interrogate some more. When the ideas flow I write and interrogate some more - all in Scrivener - all approximately in the right place in my Scrivener Story template.

In one story, I needed to describe the interior of the cockpit of a Tiger Moth. I called up a bunch of stuff on Tiger Moths (like how far one can fly on a tank of fuel - which then became a plot point) from the internet - pictures, details, specifications and so on. I just put that stuff in one vertical split and wrote the story segment about the Tiger Moth in the other vertical split - while looking at the pictures and specs.

The elegance of Scrivener - you can embrace it any way you like. Better than sex.

Yes – ease of writing has been DROWned by it.


Yesterday. Much confusion in my head. My notebook. A table and a bench. A small river singing next to me. The fine air and the silent quiet silence of a mountain. Trees caressed by a soft wind blowing in the nearby forest.

Trying to write something of the structured story I had in front of me, elegantly laid out in Scrivener. Fear of typing. Fear of too little time to do it. Fear of the lack of that gentle fear that sometimes pushes us to type faster.

After trying different color schemes for the full screen mode (finding that the default white paper under black-ink Optima characters on a black surrounding was the most relaxing in that open-air situation), I started reading some pieces written in TextEdit.

TextEdit. The successor of my old trusty WriteNow. Fired up, and started writing and writing in a single, uninterrupted document. Free flux, catching from the sparse surrounding events. An exercise for my fingers, while my head was still someway sleeping. I went on writing for more than an hour.

Then, night approaching, some distance to cover, I went away without adding a single word to my structured text in Scriver. So’s the life, some sundays in a late sunny evening.


I am writing the nonlinear way I’ve always done it, only enjoying it more!

My brain generates all the puzzle pieces, but not hooked up. My first task must be getting out all the puzzle pieces. Trying overmuch to put them together in the first drafting process only slows me.

Scrivener made my present book (97.3% Scrivener generated by its end) an incredibly efficient process, the fastest I’ve ever worked.

To be fair (to me) I have also been very disciplined about NOT going back to the beginning and working my way to the end, yet again, as a solution for whatever is ailing the book. I have learned I must resist this temptation, or the book veers towards becoming fishheaded… you know, all the marvelously meticulous prose winds up in the front, and the rest is the meat of the story with no sensory features.

Early word processors, especially, encouraged the fishheaded approach, because sometimes reading several chapters was the only way to pinpoint that paragraph you were looking for.

To Scrivener, which saved me from fishheadedness.

I confess: I just now began to use Scrivener. I do have it for some time, even extended the trial period but did not - in fact could not make the final step towards Scrivener. To be honest, I did not writte anything worth reading for quite some time - that is until I finally (thanks, Keith) found out that I can buy it using Paypal, not only by Credit Card. Suddenly, I worked with it. And, even more surprising, my writing is getting better again. But somehow I switched from writing one draft to writing a bit here, a scene there. I wonder how this will end. Right now I re-discovered that it really doesn’t matter how you work on a story - if you do have a story to write down, you can do it in any way - just stay commited to write it.

I agree with Brett about the dread WORD syndrome and its likely impact on literacy levels. Even when I was saddled with MS, I could never write anything comfortably in the assigned straightjacket – not that I had found WordPerfect or WordStar or Ami or any other antecedents an improvement. But that was in the corporate hack world, which I left many years ago. So far as my own work goes – or went, until I began using Scrivener – the process was often
1/ Very rough hand-written draft. (In a top-bound notebook. How does anyone write into those goddam folds?)
2/ Transcribe into whichever blunderbuss program is ready to hand.
3/ Print out the draft, which had undergone some minor upgrading in the transcription process.
4/ Sit down with printout and begin serious editing/rewriting.
5/ Repeat 2, 3, and 4 until it’s done.
With S, I’ve now imported two moderate novel mss – about 75,000 words each – and have broken them down according to my original structural ideas. (As I noted in a post someplace else, after import and organizing the Outliner, I discovered that my protagonist had managed to be in two places at once. Probably should have picked that up earlier, but S did throw it in my face.)

The next two books exist so far only in fragments and ideas and images. I look forward to importing those elements into S and starting to organize them, flesh them out, but that will have to wait until I’ve finished cleaning up and polishing the two nearly-done books.

That’s for book-length projects. For shorter ones, I’m still working it out. S may provide the right platform for those as well, though generally they’re in the 750-word OpEd category, and those frequently go directly from handwritten draft to computer to revision to editor.