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What is a "Vomit draft" and do you need to write one?

December 16, 2022
3 min read time

Everyone hates the dreaded first draft. The thought of forming a single coherent sentence – let alone 90 pages – is enough to conjure so much anxiety that you’d rather not write anything at all. This is why many people recommend writers starting their process with the “vomit draft.”  

A vomit draft is pretty much how it sounds – a writer dumps everything they want to say onto the page with little to no editing as quickly as possible so you can move onto the next draft. Think of it like that scene from The Exorcist - you’re spewing everything onto the page just so it just gets out of you! (Apologies for making you relive that.)

In theory, the vomit draft sounds like it should work. Who doesn’t like the idea of writing without self-criticism? Who doesn’t like the idea of giving yourself permission to write badly? Plus we all know that we will need to write multiple drafts anyway, so why not get the poorly written and executed one out of the way? This way you have an idea about the story you’re working with. Right?

Below are some benefits to writing a vomit draft, as well as the case for why writing a vomit draft might not be the best option for you – and that’s OK!

The benefits of a vomit draft

It gets you out of your head. Every writer is familiar with analysis paralysis. Your brain is filled with all types of trap doors that prevent you from writing. You start to overthink everything and before you know it, you’ve been staring at a blank page for three hours. Knowing that what you’re going to write will probably suck (and probably won’t make it to the next draft) allows you to start writing freely. And FYI: once you enter that free flow state, chances are not everything you write will inevitably suck nor will it all need to be cut. The key is to start writing, period.   

It will help you understand your story better. That big story in your head? The one you've got all figured out? Well, I hate to break it to you but once it gets on the page, it probably won’t work out – and that’s a good thing! You need to “break the story” and figure out what does work, as well as brainstorm new things that are even better than you initially imagined. And that will only work when you get writing!

Which reminds me, a big misconception about the vomit draft is that you’re writing it without any structure or outline and that’s not entirely true. While some writers might begin writing without an outline – otherwise known as ‘pantsers’ – most writers (and those who are being paid) require an outline even before the vomit draft. This is a good thing! The vomit draft helps you figure out the good things in your outline and also gives you an idea what needs to be cut. So make sure before you vomit that draft that you’re working with a solid outline and complete beats. Having this in place will also help the vomit draft, uh, go down (up?) more smoothly.  

It helps you work on a deadline. If you’re working on a deadline, then writing a vomit draft is a good solution to help you get started. Allowing yourself to write badly is a great motivator. And remember, mediocrity is the first step in greatness, and you can only finish something once you start it.

Why a vomit draft might not work for everyone

For the longest time, I wanted to be someone who could vomit drafts. I thought that’s what “real” writers did. And besides, it sounded like a breeze! Write badly and quickly without getting in my own way? Sign me up! But the thing is, whatever you do, you take yourself with you. Meaning I’m a big self editor. I edit as I write. This has been my process since forever.

When I tried to stop writing like me and attempted to write a vomit draft, it just didn’t work. I wanted to go over my beats and rework them. I wanted to fix the dialogue. I was definitely not throwing up all over the page.

When I beat myself up over it, a writing coach of mine told me to stop it. “Is this working for you?” he asked. “No, I hate it,” I admitted to which he said, “Then why are you doing it?” It was a good lesson in what works for other people might not necessarily work for you and that’s OK!

The purpose of a vomit draft is to start writing. Maybe you don’t need one! Maybe you need to write how you write and maybe accepting that about yourself is the key to start banging out that first draft. Whatever gets you writing today and tomorrow and the day after that, that’s your process. I think the quicker we own that about ourselves, the more likely we are to start writing. So vomit it out or chew your words slowly – just give yourself permission to write!

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