My Writing Life – The Dragnet Draft

After I finished the first draft of my memoir I went to Office Depot and had it printed and spiral-bound. It was satisfying to have something tangible in my hand after so many months of only seeing my words on the computer screen. When I read through the manuscript I realized very quickly that what I had written, in addition to being the classic shitty first draft was also a Dragnet draft.

If you’re of a certain age you might remember a TV program called Dragnet, and a character named Joe Friday, who is credited with the quip “Just the facts, ma’am”. And that’s what I had written – just the facts. Even though I had written about difficult and painful periods in my life, the birth of my children, and the first contact with my birth family, the manuscript was devoid of feelings.

I struggled for many months doing rewrites trying to inject feeling into my words, I sought the counsel of other published writers, but I couldn’t seem to put my feelings into my words. Eventually I realized the reason I was struggling to write about feelings was because I was also struggling to feel those feelings.

At one time my ability to disconnect was a survival mechanism but it serves no such purpose anymore; my life has radically changed from those days of disconnection. The problem with using disconnection as a coping mechanism is that, while it becomes very easy to slip into a disconnected state of mind, it is much more difficult to reconnect and get back in touch with those feelings that have been suppressed.

Moving beyond the Dragnet draft has not been easy but it has been necessary. The process of writing, remembering, and allowing myself to feel has taught me new things about my experiences and about myself. I hope it will also result in a book that readers will be interested in.

My questions for you today are: have you ever written a Dragnet draft? Do you find it easy or difficult to write about your feelings? What tools to you use to help you translate what you feel inside to the written word?


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things.
  1. I can see where the first draft would be more facts not feeling…you are so worried to get it all in and correct…after that then you can add the feelings…I love that you are sharing all this with us…

    1. Glad to have you along for the journey, Deb.

  2. I walk a tightwire going between “just the facts” and weepin’, wailin’, and jubilation–depending on the story. That’s why we have SLFD.

    Thanks for the clear-eyed entry. The Office Depot idea is great!

    1. “Weepin’, wailin’, and jubilation” – I love that!

  3. Linda,
    I taught on this very topic at the writers conference in Spokane. The stories I have sold, sold because of the emotion in them and the ability to draw your reader with them. I have written just the facts and it always falls flat. We need to dig down deep to that place we really don’t want to go and share those emotions–that’s how we connect. I know your story will be amazing!

    1. Wish I could have heard you speak, Terri.

  4. I struggle with that constantly on my blogs, because I only get one draft! But, how much is too much? Should I really be so honest about my marriage and my relationship with my mother, or should I tie it up in a pretty little package? Usually, I go ahead and tell the truth, because I feel like it might help someone else to know they are not alone in their struggles. The problem with the new blog, about our time overseas, is that all of my stories involve other people, so I’m forever asking myself, do I really have the right to share their emotional strife, even if I leave out their names? It’s tough. Anyway, your need to work through the emotions of that period reminds me of a favorite quote (though I have no idea who said it): “I don’t write to explain. I write to understand.”

    1. Excellent quote, Becky. I love your blog, by the way, I think you share just what you need to to make it interesting.

  5. I don’t have a hard time finding the feelings, but I always want to put them in words in an effective way, almost understated. In my memoir manuscript, music is my tool, with concerts I’ve been to reflecting different times of my life.

    1. Music is powerful for evoking emotions, isn’t it? I can hear a piece of music and instantly be transported to a different place and time.

  6. Oh the process of writing is just so revealing. I like the concept of a dragnet draft. The real work comes after that. I’m still working on mine. Kudos to you.

    1. Joanna, thanks for stopping by!

  7. Linda, I think many writers find that challenging. I know I do to some extent. Some times, I even have no memories about earlier things. But God has moved me past and I will write what I know.

    Good for you to share, it will always help others. Blessings***

    1. I agree with you, Karen. I believe that God will help me to share what needs to be shared too.

  8. I get my feelings out via journaling and writing music – wonderful therapy!!! After over 30 years, I am finally getting my music compositions on CD and hopefully out into the published world of songwriters. I had to get my family raised first:-) But I journal on a regular basis and it is so very helpful.

    1. Good luck, Carole! And I hear you about getting your family raised first – me too!

  9. Writing about things on my blog is way different that who I write in my book (to be). I have discovered the same as you. My first drafts were Dragnet drafts. For me, the only way to get feelings into those writes was to allow myself to feel what I had repressed during the circumstances written. It’s very painful dredging it all up. For my own good, I have entered into counseling, (though I’ve been there before) to help me get through this. My Counselor has been very supportive. It’s been very freeing. Now, I write about what happened even naming names which I will edit later. For right now I need the authenticity in order to move on, so it will be a something my readers will laugh and cry about.

    1. Good luck with your writing, Elizabeth. Writing can be very healing, whether we choose to share certain parts or not.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.