Draft is a category of a wide variety of materials that are unified by not being printed or published. A select number of drafts are kept in archives. However, the bulk of materials considered drafts are never archived. The majority have been forgotten or purposefully destroyed. In the electronic age, drafts also include even the tiny revisions we make in electronic files that may or may not have been tracked. This category also includes thoughts and experiences that were never written down.

Draft can also be treated as a quality of a work of art (i.e., draft-like). Certain techniques in writing, such as streams of consciousness that happen during walking (see walk poem), can be considered draft-like.


Scandura, Jani. “The Matter of Drafts.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, edited by Paula Rabinowitz, Oxford University Press, 2020. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.013.205

A draft may refer to written materials that never attain printed form

and extraneous materials that may or may not find their way into archives.

might include the evanescent, that which was never written down and had only ever existed as a dream or disjointed fragment of thought.

the William Jamesian “streams of consciousness” that Virginia Woolf and James Joyce attempted to capture in their prose, or the unconscious magic produced in automatic writings, or the extemporaneous and collaborative “cadavre exquis” championed by the Surrealists constitute something like drafts. But could those phrases or rhythms that turn in poet’s head while walking count as drafts? (Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems employs them as an art form.) What of the memory of a conversation accidentally overheard? (Kenneth Fearing begins a noir-ish 1943 poem, “You will ask how I came to be eavesdropping, in the first place/The answer is, I was not.”)

The 20th and 21st century rubbish bin might also include extemporaneous experiences and improvisational performances—by the Dadaists, situationists, fluxus, blues, jazz, and rap artists, participants in happenings, mail art, poetry slams, and flarf—events that cannot be contained by paper, that resist representation or reproduction, even if recorded, photographed, or filmed, and whose immediacy can only be glimpsed retrospectively. Are these experiences and performances also drafts? And what of those stories and poems that might be considered “drafts” only because they were never published during a writer’s lifetime—rejected by publishers as “inadequate,” too risqué, or politically contentious, or forgotten, misplaced, abandoned, or rejected by writers themselves? For modern writers, particularly those working in the late 19th through 20th centuries, the marketplace bears its indelible thumbprint on texts that escape the Neverland of drafts.

And what about manuscript revisions made quickly, silently (Track Changes turned off), invisibly right there on the screen, flickers of thought executed by muscle memory in the fingertips, barely even consciously registered if the writer is deep in the flow? What about diskettes and memory sticks? What about the computers themselves, surprisingly intimate objects that are a writer’s companion for much of his or her day? Are they part of what gets boxed up and sent to the archives? What gives us weight? What remains after word processing?