One of the benefits I’ve personally experienced in engaging with a writer’s drafts, including their diaries and other private writings, is that they helped me understand the writer’s process and life more than their published works could ever do. For me, the context of a thinker’s thoughts is highly critical in truly understanding the content of his works and making them practical to one’s life.

My best personal example for this is reading Thoreau’s journal and Laura Dassow Walls’ biography of him.


Scandura, Jani. “The Matter of Drafts.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, edited by Paula Rabinowitz, Oxford University Press, 2020. (Crossref),

The advent of celebrity culture in the later 19th century increased readers’ interests in writers’ work habits and ways of living and contributed to the reception of individual writer’s works and the production of writers themselves as cult figures.

Drafts and manuscripts were seen to provide insight into a writer’s life history—and reveal the keys to their character and struggles. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, such biographical insights were used to support the narration of plausibly satisfying developmental trajectories for writers and individual works or to ask how sociological factors of modern life experience, political affiliation, class status, and to a lesser extent race and gender might affect what one wrote.

The rough draft tells a kind of day-by-day story at once logical, symptomatic of affect, and phenomenological—none other than that of the writer at work: a secret tale, almost always absent from literary biographies, and which nevertheless constitutes the crux of what we would like to know about the author … the rough draft enables us to be present at the birth of the motivations, strategies, and metamorphoses of writing, which, more often than not, labors precisely at effacing its own tracks and at rendering its mechanisms untraceable, secret or problematic in the completed form of the definitive text.

Advocates of making drafts visible and available argue that the effort to expose unfinished, rejected, and process works is instructive and invaluable, lending a fuller picture of our understanding of an artist or writer.