Finishing that first draft is a big deal. It is a piece of writing. Something that is now a whole, even if the parts don't necessarily run smoothly. And because it's not perfect it's so easy to get down on yourself when you start looking at it. Therefore, when rewriting, it's good to follow a few simple rules that will help you structure your rewrite and stave off self-loathing:
After printing out your project, take some time to celebrate your first draft. You finished! Hey! Hot Damn! Not everyone can say they have a first draft of ANYTHING. For me, when I used to finish something, I'd celebrate by drinking and eating cheese. Now? I still eat the cheese but I lost the drinking portion so I've folded in shoes. Once that celebration is over, take a couple of days off if possible. But not much more than that. A couple = 2 from what I recall from elementary school.
2. GET YOUR PEN OUT
After you've taken your teensy break, have a pen ready and read one way through off of the hard copy. Don't start rewriting as you're reading. Go to sleep.
On the second pass, start categorizing your rewrite. Sample categories could be: Plot Issues, Character Issues, Scenes to Delete, Structural, Formatting...
Come up with a strategy. Though that sounds simple that may mean rebreaking an entire story or A Plot. You may rebreak many threads and that could have domino effects. That's okay. Take the time to thoroughly decide on the approach of rewriting and thoroughly examine if you change x how will y be effected? Will it be better? As long as you think through the approach both within the document and what your approach as the writer will be (ie.: I'll work for 7 days on this part and then see where we're at and maybe switch gears) then you will have a strategy. (By the way, I've had to rebreak outlines more times than I can count. There's no shame in that. It though might not be necessary. Take it all one problem at a time and you may find big sweeping approaches aren't what's best. This whole section could be called DON'T PANIC).
5. PICK YOUR POISON
A little adjunct to Number 4: While you're thinking of your rewrite, you may want to think about what to attack first. There's a saying which is "Go in the order that is killing you." I recommend rewriting the most challenging area(s) of your project first then go towards the easiest.
6. TIME MANAGE
Time and schedule your sessions so when you're rewriting, if you say work at 90 minute timed sessions, your chances of ending on a high note are greater than if you work for hours on end with no real cut off point. Danger there is basically getting sunk into the depths of despair.
THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR by Cynthia Greenburg Dunlop
online shop, look at a scene, read about politics, look at a scene, call an institution I have a long-standing gripe with, glance at manuscript sitting by coffee maker, lie in bed and think about what I didn't accomplish today, look at phone, remember before bed looking at my phone is supposed to be bad for me, go to sleep.
Time Management is something every creative person must incorporate into their process so the slog-feeling of rewriting doesn't thwart effort and self-esteem.
Bounce ideas. Don't be afraid to call fellow scribes feedback. You can easily ask a trusted soul to read a scene, a chapter, or the whole thing. Be ready for feedback you hadn't anticipated and come prepared with specific questions like "Is this part working?" "Did you get that so-in-so was trying to do this or that?' "Did these lines land for you or feel funny?" Caution though - if you want compliments ask buddies, if you want truth, ask peers.
Good luck and when you sell it, buy me the pair of shoes that are in my cart on Amazon with the other things in my cart that I never bought.
Yes, I feel like crying. But really, that's not indicative of all that much because crying comes you know, too easily to me. I'm a sensitive soul. Still...
I'M SO FUCKING HAPPY!
How did we do it? You didn't ask that. Who would ask that? But I want to say PERSISTENCE and DILIGENCE gets her done! Those are the two biggest keys to getting a workable piece of material. Yes, of course, it meant the world to have a kick-ass partner who makes me laugh every single writing session, and moves heaven and earth to make sure she can show up for our writing. But breaking it down it's all the little things: scheduling, calendars, clearing away your thoughts before you write, having a definite start time and end time, setting goals, taking the time to work on the hard scenes, saying the hard stuff to one another, admitting when something's not working and truly enjoying when something is.
Persistence and Diligence, make that your mantra.
And so, we celebrate. We brag a little. We smile when smiling can be so tough (the world, the news, the people who annoy us who are in the news of the world...).
Fuck them WE HAVE A FIRST DRAFT!
One thing I do believe (and am now experiencing myself) is in our desire to get to the finish line we might start underwriting.
It's natural. It's exciting. You're going to have a finished screenplay/novel/pilot. Yay! But man, you're fucking tired. It's been a long haul. Can't you just work a little less hard now?
Consistency IS the key. With consistency, you can get your work done without underwriting any one section. For me, oddly, it's the end. I see the finish line and I'm like We're done! I don't have to care as much anymore!
Every single part of your work has to be valued. You need to stand behind all of it. So don't rush.
Slow and steady wins the race. Unless you're in a marathon but let's be honest, you're not. You hate exercise.
When we fall in love with our prose sometimes we don't think about why the sentence, paragraph or scene is actually there. And that can really fuck up what would otherwise be a good piece of writing.
Before I worked on shows and before I taught writing classes, I took a bunch of writing classes. I learned a lot. And from the many classes I took I can boil something down for you so you don't have to take the same amount of classes. Put your work to an Intention Test and see what stays and let go of what some of us might refer to as "the fat."
For the Intention Test, ask yourself these five questions:
-What is my intention for this Scene/Page/Chapter?
-Why is this Scene/Page/Chapter here? What is the point of it?
-Does this Scene/Page/Chapter move the story forward?
-Does this Scene/Page/Chapter offer any new information/characters?
-If this Scene/Page/Chapter wasn't here, would anyone miss it (other than me?)
I think this could be helpful and help pry your addiction to Sentimentality away from its grasp. We get sentimental about our writing. We fall in love with our lines. As many writers complain about writing, often, I think secretly many of us kinda fall in love with our writing. I can't tell you the amount of times I've heard a writer say, But I really liked this. There are so many things I really liked too. But streamlining, getting to the point, etc., makes pieces flow and readers love you for it. There is no excuse for dense, bogged down writing that has no real point and gives the reader the excuse to walk away.
Don't let them go! You do have power over your reader and you do have power over your weaker inclinations! The solution is to use The Intention Test, grow a pair and make some fans!
So a client is a finalist in one of those contests that everyone wants to win - the type of thing that could really catapult a writing career. They have a process where she's asked to rewrite her submission via notes from a mentor. Well, she's working on a rewrite of her submission (which by the way is awesome) as well as another project for a writing class. All the deadlines are fast approaching...
TIME. Time is so annoying.
It sometimes seems close to impossible to get a writing session done. You can have a deadline which for many helps - but really - time is a bitch. If you have any life whatsoever - kids, big job, whatever - it can feel really frikken hard to, simply put, get your work done.
In life there are a lot of problems but even more solutions.
I remember hearing Jojo Moyes talk about how her husband at like 5am or some ungodly hour, would bring her coffee in bed and she'd start her sessions, barely awake. And recently I was reading in his final book to his Struggle series, how Karl Ove Knausgaard also starts ridiculously early before he deals with his kids. These are published people so it's good to pay attention to what works. What works is writing when you can and what also works is writing before you have awareness of the millions of other things you could be doing instead.
Early morning. The sun is not even out yet really. The brain is fresh from sleep the house is quiet the computer awaits...
I see mornings as the ultimate time to write anything. My partner and I can't always write, and when we do, it's on the phone and sharing our documents via Google docs. One other constant is this happens most mornings at 9:30 am and to me that's late!
Oddly, I believe, if you have somewhat of a healthy lifestyle, like you go to bed relatively early, don't screentime yourself into madness before bed, and wake up super early and cut off the wifi before you start your project, you can get your stuff done. Why is that odd? It seems counter to everything people really do lately with their day and their time. But taking care of yourself and being an early to rise type could mean getting your scriptnovelessay done.
End of story -- that's the goal.
Writing when you don't want to is what separates the women from the girls, the men from the boys -- just had to do that. Always wanted to make it women but I love men too so I wanted it equal opportunity. Speaking of equality, women and men can be equally lazy. Lazy, avoidy, etc. And with writing, that doesn't work so well. The whole point is consistency.
It's REALLY annoying that to be a writer you have to write. I mean my God, how messed up is that? But yeah, that's what it takes.
So what I'm saying is you kind of gotta do your job. Doesn't matter if you feel sick, doesn't matter if you feel tired, doesn't matter if you think you're out of ideas, doesn't matter if you have friends in town or are away. Gotta keep at it.
Because that way you:
•Stay connected to your idea
•Allow your brain to think of your idea when you're not writing
•Have integrity and don't just pay lip service to your craft/profession when you tell yourself and others you're a writer
and... you... get to...
So remember, you don't have to write for one billion hours at a time. You don't even have to write for 5 hours at a time. But you do have to consider if you're not writing every day or on most days, think about what's in your way? While I'm a big believer in a daydreamy kind of break where you let art, culture and the world envelope you in terms of nourishment, a break is not a month.
Writers write. That's your mantra, daughter. Son. Did it again, couldn't help myself.
And if you're not going to write today after reading this then immediately go out, support your local bookstore and buy:
The War of Art.
This morning I asked a client if she was having a hard time with time management. She had just described how painful it was to see the images in the news and then of course she wanted to post relevant items on her FB page. And yeah, there was some online shopping therapy, too. Lots of stuff in the cart but nothing bought. So when I asked, I was sure she'd say Yes, I need time-management suggestions. Instead, her response was "Focus Management. I need to focus." Brilliant.
How true is that phrase for the world we find ourselves in right now? We have such a hard time turning off the world, the world that is constantly hounding us to pay attention to it, that we don't get anything done. It's even worse if we have a lot of time. And even if we don't, we seem to always find a moment to look at our News app, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. And if we aren't getting notifications we're checking it every chance we get. I have a friend who's had to put a stop watch on for her bathroom breaks at work because she's reading the news on the turlet.
Quick suggestions for focusing:
*When you're writing, turn off your WiFi. Duh, right? But we don't always remember to do it.
*If you find you're always reaching for your phone, looking at Facebook one more time, or as my client described, look for one pair of shoes and four hours later your life is lost, then shut off your phone for an afternoon. A whole afternoon. Have "Forget My Phone" Friday Night. See what a little chunk of time can do to show you up close a) your addiction and b) how peaceful life can be without "the constant."
*As for when you allow yourself to be online, put a timer on. You know how I LOVE timers. Looking for flip flops? 20 minutes MAX, and I mean from perusing to ordering. Seeing what horrible items are in the news? 15 minutes max PER DAY. Period. End of story. Are you researching for your project and suddenly it goes from researching to suddenly some deep diving into Reddit? Yeah, I've played in that rabbit hole. Let me tell ya, research is a half hour endeavor. Period. In fact, write a list of what it is you're needing to find out before you take the research plunge. Then cross off your list what you find out while the time is ticking away and boom, shut the computer OFF when the half hour is up. Ding! You haven't wasted your life away.
Focusing isn't easy. But you don't want to be fuzzy. You want to feel good and accomplished and like you're moving forward on the daily. So try these very simple suggestions and let the world spin while you spin your gold. You won't regret it.
Any writer will tell you the secret to writing is writing. Any other writer will say the secret to writing is rewriting. And another writer might talk to you about discipline. I don't know. There are no magic bullets. But the reason people give these suggestions or at least one reason is often writers complain about writer's block. If they're totally honest, they can find the time to write, they can carve out at least an hour of their day if not more to really give it a shot, but if they have nothing to say, they have nothing to say. It's boring. It's lonely. And said writer can't help but feel like a fraud.
Currently I'm having a bit of a dearth. I don't have an excuse. I have that daily precious time to do my work and for me, it is work. It not only brings me joy, it can and has generated income. So... do I hate joy and income? Am I out of ideas? Am I a real writer? If I was wouldn't I be writing and prolific and blowing myself and others away with my bright, unusual and pithy ideas?
Well, here's the good news, I'm too old to totally give a shit. Like on many levels I don't even ask myself those questions any longer. I no longer traipse down the rabbit hole towards Existentialism Plaza. I've been writing long enough to know there are downs, dearths, and some real choice moments when nothing is emerging. But do not misunderstand. Not giving a shit doesn't then become not doing anything. Nope. There is a solution.
DOCTOR'S ORDERS FOR WRITER'S BLOCK
1) Show up for it. Even if all you do is write in your diary, show up for your writing. Daily. At least an hour.
2) Keep your notebook by your side. Write down your random thoughts. All day. All night. Have your notebook at arm's reach.
3) READ. Any novelist knows to read and to read a lot. Novelist, TV writer, playwright - no matter, you are a writer and writers read. Reading outside the genre you write is the way I usually go. And I try to mix it up: non-fiction, articles, short stories, scripts -- all to get stimulated. I LOVE good writing. I'm inspired by it. I emulate it. Currently I'm reading Edna O'Brien and I couldn't be happier. I have a bunch of books on the docket and I even listen to good writing. On a recent drive my husband played me a beautiful rendition of a Sylvia Townsend Warner story on the New Yorker podcast. Heaven.
4) Watch TV and film -- shows and movies you wouldn't gravitate towards are ideal. I currently watched "Beguiled." Had little to no interest in it and knew close to nothing about it. Those for me are the best because then when they're good you're rather blindsided by genius. "Beguiled" was like watching moving paintings over and over. And under the beauty was some serious plot shit I never would have thought of. That was a nice kick for my brain.
5) Live outside your box. Go to a museum, take a night and do something you wouldn't typically do, take an exercise class that you're afraid of, snorkel - anything that you haven't done before. On New Year's Day we signed up for a Sun Salutation class at our yoga studio. 54 Sun Salutes. I'm really out of shape. But it's bound to get something going. Or I might just throw up. The point is...
It's about stimulation. It's about shaking it up. You are a full person with a million idea germs but some times those germs get stuck between routine and expectation. They're stuck inside your vessels and your capillaries, between your frontal lobe and your waistband. They're just plain stuck. And if you keep doing more of the same, there your idea germs will stay stuck, bored out of their freakin minds. And if you do nothing to save them, then they'll eventually wither away. But if you live a little, they start to move, collide, and finally emerge. They get unstuck, you get unblocked and boom, your germs mate with each other and ideas are born. And then you can't help but write it down. You go from stuck to fingers dancing on the page. You're back, baby!
And what a great way to start off the new year! You know what I mean? With a brand new idea. That's a nice way to say fuck you to an existential crisis, isn't it now?
That's all I got.
Happy New Year!!!
All I'm saying is when you have a good idea WRITE IT DOWN! I can't tell you how many times throughout the day my husband will go, "Go write that down right now. That's a good idea." And I do so. But you know, he's not always around.
ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING WITH YOU SO YOU CAN WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAS! You can use Notes in your phone but I find that to be a little eh-eh. I don't remember what's in my phone. I don’t even think to look there. It's not tangible and my phone is not dedicated to my writing pursuits.
Personally I find going to Staples or Office Depot to be the CVS For Writers. The way I love candy and medicine in the aisles of chain drugstores, I love the paper, notebooks and pens in big box office supply stores. They have all the tools I need to keep track of my divine inspiration PINGS - brilliant thoughts about whatever I'm currently writing or hits about a new book, play, children's story, screenplay, etc., etc.
To that end, when I do my writing session, I have my document open dedicated to the facet of my project I'm currently working on as well as my diary. In my diary, I write down all my incredibly important feelings about the world and my anxieties and sometimes I throw in an impromptu gratitude list, but I also at times have an idea. I believe ideas are precious. So I always type IDEA and then write that idea down just like that, in upper case. That way I can do Control Find, type in IDEA and locate my brilliance in between my mixed up feelings about Whole Foods and why I’m not able to go to yoga again.
That simple tool makes it easy for me to shine; to never be grasping and feel like I have writer's block. Same with having a small notebook I bought at the candy store for writers. My small notebook follows me everywhere – it’s in my bag, on the passenger seat of my car, it sits on my bedside table so when I’m falling asleep and think of something just before I go to unconsciousness, I can turn on the light (sorry, husband) and jot it down. That one little trick simply gives me another opportunity to find what I need to shine when I’m afraid I don’t have any good ideas.
The point of all of this is a) writer's write and b) you do have good ideas but one bad idea is believing you'll remember them all.
More about b...
You're not a superhuman weirdo with ironclad memory as your superpower. Or if you are, tell me more about it. Seems like a great IDEA. (hacky hardy har har follows here).
Okay, writer people. I hope this helps.
It's not easy to do a lot of things but writing is its own brand of hard. It's not difficult to do it in terms of the logistics. In fact, the world has conspired against you to make it easier and easier to do your work. But there's always, it seems, something better to do than write.
My excuse roster is usually pretty simple: I have to clean all the dishes, pay all the bills, do a meal plan for the week, go to the market, cry in the car for a second, put the groceries away, clean the counter, check FB, Instagram, Email, Texts and my newsfeed (every ten minutes) and then I'll be ready. But by then the babysitter is going home and I'm exhausted and my husband just found out there's a Great British Baking Show season we missed.
Yeah, everything you could be doing instead of writing will be there when you get back from your daily writing appointment. But so what do I mean by that?
Create a schedule. You can do it daily or weekly. But you put that appointment on the calendar and then you'll know exactly when you're going to show up for your writing, where you're going to be doing your writing, and how long you plan to write for.
So just like a business date with another person, you're making a business date to write. You know, Monday night at 8:30pm, you are writing for one hour. And how do you know that? Sunday night at 9:30pm you decided and entered that info into your phone. That's how. Bonus points for people who do weekly schedules and stand by them.
Then set up your phone to beep or gong or whatever it does to give you a one hour warning and a ten minute warning before your session begins. That's a warning for the world regarding when you're going to unleash that creative voice that is dying to get out and kick the universe's ass with your originality and productivity. That's a warning to you you have ten more minutes and then YOU MUST PUT DOWN THAT SPONGE AND WORK ON YOUR SCREENPLAY!
Yep. You're going to be show up FOR YOURSELF HELLO! And do your writing. And that writing is not just a gift to you, it's a gift to the world. So for heaven's sake, get with the calendar and let's get this mofo done.
Just make it a simple practice. After two weeks, a habit will be formed and voila, I believe you'll be on your way to finishing your award winning whatever.
Now that I've written all that, I have to do it myself. Ciao for now!
Writer, Writing Coach, Writer Supporter.