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Could a “Vomit Draft” Be a Terrible Idea?

A “vomit draft” is only worthwhile if you are emotionally prepared to write a radically different second draft.
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If you’re a seasoned writer with many features and/or pilots scripts under your belt, you may tell newbies a “vomit draft” is a great idea, and a super useful writing tool.

You have the very best of intentions, passing along earned knowledge to help novice writers find the confidence to complete a first draft. Who can argue with that?

Well…me.

It’s not the intention. That’s entirely valid. And it’s not the “vomit draft” concept. That can be very helpful to some writers. But it doesn’t take into account human nature. Which means advice given with the purest of spirit may turn out to be a truly horrible choice.

First, a “vomit draft” is not as disgusting as it sounds. You put together a rough idea of what you want your screenplay or pilot to be and then dive in. Chuck in a bunch of stuff, don’t self-censor, or edit, just be one with the creative process. Create something imperfect, because you can always fix it later.

Simple, stress-reducing, and awesome, right? Or a massive writing setback waiting to happen.

I spend my days working with writers who are not seasoned. But they found the time, passion, and self-discipline to “complete” a script or two. Congrats!

When you haven’t done that very often, the sense of accomplishment is ENORMOUS. Overcoming the mountain of insecurities and finding the time and commitment to actually finish a draft is a reason to celebrate. Especially when you weren’t quite sure you had it in you.

But all those natural, good feelings mean you are EXTREMELY unlikely to burn it to the ground. In fact, you secretly hope it’s perfect. You become very attached to that draft. It’s your baby. It’s the tangible result of all your hard work. It’s something to show those voices who said you’d never finish it - even if they only exist in your brain. And your Mom/spouse/best friend thinks it’s awesome.

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Human nature, right? Of course you’ll be attached to it. So, the ‘you can always fix it later’ - quietly fades into the background.

Despite all the warm and fuzzies, in reality, the majority of scripts I see from novice writers have poor structure, an absence of theme/subtext, and thinly drawn characters. Which is to be expected when someone writes a full draft with little experience and no guidelines apart from “vomit.” Imagine building your first house after reading a book, not bothering with a blueprint, and just going for it. You’d think it was pretty darn livable, no matter the pronounced lean, or leaky roof. You certainly wouldn’t be super keen to rebuild, nor would it be easy to slip some solid foundations under an existing shambles.

So, when more “senior” writers insist a “vomit draft” is a liberating and important step in the writing process, they are not allowing for a basic behavioral trait - most novice writers don’t want to re-write the way they must, if they want to improve. Not because they are lazy, or bad, but because they are human.

I read too many “vomit drafts” that are entered into competitions, and perform poorly. Which often makes the writer feel frustrated, and a failure. Then disillusioned. And possibly angry. All this work on my masterpiece, and the industry is too…whatever it is…to recognize the genius. Again, predictable feelings. But it means the “vomit draft” has actually set back a novice writer’s journey when it was supposed to encourage.

I’ll admit my bias here. When starting out, every writer should learn to love the outline. It’s the quickest path to improvement on an exhausting journey. But if you think vomiting on the page is of value - you must accept the second and EQUALLY IMPORTANT part of this process.

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You must understand that your “vomit draft”, as a full script, is meaningless. It’s a writing exercise. It’s total, and utter garbage. It’s not to be read by a stranger, entered anywhere, and no matter what your friends say, or how you feel when you are done, it is still total, and absolute GARBAGE. Do not fall in love with it.

That’s why it’s called vomit. No one pukes, and then gets annoyed when strangers don’t enjoy looking at it. Even if you’ve cleaned it up a bit.

No matter what you start to believe as you near completion, you must be OK with shredding that draft. There are no maybes. You didn’t accidentally write a masterpiece. You wrote garbage, just like everybody else. You will learn a lot, you will test your passion for the idea, and gain valuable typing time which matters. But that is all.

Understand and accept that becoming a good writer with a firm command of craft requires time and a lot of work. Like every skilled job. Fight that voice in your head whispering your first draft is “perfect.” Don’t worry, everyone secretly hopes their first stab is the one, much like our first romantic partner. Those feelings are built on a shaky foundation of inexperience. They fade over time, if you keep dating, I mean writing, so you can discover richer, more confident feelings.

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A “vomit draft” is only worthwhile if you are emotionally prepared to write a radically different second draft. And most novice writers are nowhere near emotionally prepared for that, because they are human beings.

If you feel you may not be prepared to spend all that time on something of questionable value as an entire script, let me introduce you to the outline. A place to quietly work out all your wild thoughts with a lot less typing, potential emotional disappointment, and vomit. 


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