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Writing is Rewriting, Part II
John Irving

(Read Part I)

"More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting," -- John Irving

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting," -- Justice Brandeis

In the first part of this article, I talked about the difficulty of getting perspective on your writing, and the necessity that you do - so you can perform the one act that separates the professional writer from every other wanna-be with a half-finished book, play, or script on their desktop. 

Rewriting.

And rewriting....and rewriting...

I discussed the need to get away from your work for awhile, and break it down into outline form again to regain Big Picture objectivity.

All of which was leading up to perhaps one of the most courageous things a writer can do...

 

HAVE A READING

Getting a group of actors to perform your screenplay aloud, or to do a reading of your book, can be an anxiety-producing experience- but almost always an illuminating one. Hearing the actors speak, and often stumble over, your dialogue-or watching the reactions (or lack of them) in the audience's faces-definitely gives you a fresh perspective on it. You begin to see that some of your words don't fall trippingly over the tongue, but cause the tongue to trip and fall over the words.

After the reading is done, you can elicit feedback from the actors or audience, if you're brave enough to have one. But I must issue a word of warning here. Having a group of people give feedback on your material could be one of the most painful experiences of your creative life. The first time I did it, the group ganged up on me to proclaim just how bad my screenplay was. It was downright ugly. And these were my friends. Even my mom was part of the lynch mob! It dealt a crushing blow to my fragile writer's ego. I promptly threw the script away, indulged in the nearest libation, and curled up in a warm and cozy depression.  A couple weeks later, however, I emerged from the near-suicidal encounter with a ton of insights and a much better script.

 

THE FAST "NO-BRAINER" READ

Your unconscious already knows what's wrong with your material; it just can't get through the filter of your conscious, moderating mind. Sometimes just riding over your work roughshod, writing every note that comes to you without considering the absurdity of it, can result in some pretty insightful and inspired comments. It might also result in some pretty brutal ones as well. But that's okay. After the group therapy session you had with your staged reading, you're tough enough to take it.

 

THE HIERARCHY OF NOTES

One of the toughest parts about rewriting, once you've evaluated your project, is knowing where to start. You're sitting there, staring at a big smelly pile of notes-scribblings and late-night ramblings on every page, legal pads covered in blood and coffee stains. There's just no way to begin easily and painlessly with that mess.  So don't. Yet. Organize your notes from "easiest" to "most difficult." In other words, at the top of the list will be the typos and grammatical errors, then descriptive polishes, dialogue polishes, moving on down to the more difficult character, plot, and theme notes. 

I know that a major time-management proposition is to begin with the most important goal or task and stick with it until it's finished. But this ain't time management, folks. This is art. It's not rational. So I believe it's better to start with the easiest damn thing and get it done fast. Then move to the next easiest thing and whip it out quickly. Now, with a little more momentum, you might actually be willing to tackle the more difficult notes with a higher level of confidence and a lower level of antidepressants.

 

A FINAL NOTE ON GIVING YOURSELF NOTES

Some of you will be way too eager to get your script or book out to every producer or publisher in town - even after the first draft. Your task is to develop patience. You've spent this long on it, what's another few weeks or months to make sure you've got it right?

Just take a breath.

Put the material away. Rewrite it. Whatever you do, don't send it out there knowing it could be improved, thinking "they'll just fix it in post or assign me a great editor." NO THEY WON'T. The only ‘post' that project will see is ‘compost,' because that's the pile it'll end up on. So unless you want your work to become fertilizer for someone else's lawn-chill out, dude.

Then there are those of you who will resist sending your work out into the seemingly cold, harsh world no matter how long you've been at it. This is not only inefficient, it's creatively debilitating. Think of your project like a plane that has landed and is still on the runway. If you don't move it along, all those other planes (new ideas) can't land. If you've done everything you can, had others give notes on it, rewritten it until the words have lost their meaning-it's time to abandon your baby. Wrap the little tyke up in a blanket and set it on the doorstep of every production company, publisher, or agent you can.

With a little luck, someone will decide to make that child their own.            

Keep writing - and Stay Inspired!

Derek Rydall is the author of the screenwriting guides I Could've Written a Better Than That! and There's No Business Like Soul Business. He is the founder of The Law of Emergence ecourse. Get a FREE copy of the ecourse at www.LawofEmergence.com, and a FREE breakthrough coaching session at http://lawofemergence.com/freesession.htm. His other websites are www.derekrydall.com and www.scriptwritercentral.com Contact him at Derek@derekrydall.com.

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Good Advice

Thanks for posting the information and tips. I especially like the analogy of planes sitting on a runway. I feel one stumbling block is simply organizing versions of various parts of a piece of writing. Any ideas on how to track the changes and stay organized?