Anyone not familiar with the term vomit draft might have a visceral reaction to the name. And to be fair, anyone reading a vomit draft might have a visceral reaction to it, as well. So what is a vomit draft, when would you write them, and why are they sometimes a pretty fantastic tool for writers?
A vomit draft is a first draft of a script that the writer pushes through in as little time as possible, caring not about quality or polish in the process. Depending on the strength of the outline and the writer’s connection to the project, a vomit draft can actually turn out pretty well, or it can recall its namesake: quick and dirty. They are actually a pretty common practice in television, or so I hear, and probably are the basis for most screenplays, as well.
It’s a common adage in screenwriting that it’s better to improve a bad draft than take forever to write a good one. The vomit draft is the natural extreme of this. If you can write a 60-page script in one night, then you have the rest of the days you would normally spend on the first draft to improving it for the second draft… and, worst case scenario, you have a draft that somebody can knock into shape should you fall ill or be forced to escape the country.
I myself am divided on this. I think that having a draft complete is a great step for a writer on the way to having a really strong script, but I also have concerns that writing a vomit draft cements things potentially in the writer’s brain and makes them less flexible. After all, in many cases there are only so many ways you can improve a bad script. Unless you’ve trained your mind to be flexible even after completing a draft, there’s the chance that having the draft might make it harder to make sweeping needed changes. It’s definitely the practice that works best in Hollywood, but I don’t have the confidence to say it always produces better work.
That said. If your outline is comprehensive and strong, then a vomit draft contains few pitfalls. After all, you’re really just restructuring the outline into script format with placeholder dialogue. Also, if your script is heavily procedural, then a vomit draft would also likely be very helpful, because pacing out that story would likely come before the character story, which might be added in and perfected in the third and fourth drafts.
And vomit drafting, like all writing practices, relies on practice and your abilities as a writer. You should be able to look at a script and develop a plan for improvement, whether you wrote that draft in 6 hours or 6 weeks. Practice makes perfect.