The importance of rewrites


The importance of rewrites

It is a common misconception that writing happens in a complete block of time. The idea happens, the writing flows, and when you get to the end of your piece – the writing is done. When the fact of the matter is the first draft is only the beginning. There are rewrites, more rewrites and more rewrites.

This image of the writing process often stops many would be writers in their tracks.  But rewrites are an essential and necessary part to make your work the best it can be.

What does it mean to rewrite?

Writing can only improve when you dig deeper into the why. When you write something you’re initially concerned with the what. What’s happening?  What is the journey from point A to point B? As you write, you address what’s happening and you’ve figured how to make it happen.  This is why writing a first draft is so satisfying.

But it’s only the beginning.  Start asking why. Instead of what happens next, ask the question,  “why does this happen?” Why does this character choose this action, say this line, make this decision?  You can even question yourself, why am I writing this? The more you question your writing, the more specific, effective and effecient your writing will be. The why of your work will take it to the next level.

Where do I start with rewrites?

  • Go through your work and write down any questions. Circle anything that does flow. Put a question mark beside anything you don’t like.
  • Write a synopsis of the piece. Can you concisely describe the work from beginning to end? If not where do you get hung up?
  • Create a character profile for your main characters. Where do they come from? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their memories? What is their relationships? You have a sense of who the character is through the first draft, now go deep with the minute details. Even if you don’t use a single detail you will truly know your characters. And more importantly you’ll be able to compare the charcter in the first draft to the character in the proflie. Do they differ.

Rewrites can feel less rewarding than a first draft because they can take so much time to complete. Sometimes a single sentence may take an hour. But if you dive into the piece by asking why, by going deeper with your characters, you cannot help but come out the other end with a much improved work. The best you could possibly deliver to your audience.


The Top Ten Rewrite Questions

When you’re working on rewrites questions are your greatest ally. They are practical and tangible. You can answer a question, you can realize the answer is already in the text, you can choose not to answer a question. Being mysterious is okay so long as it’s a conscious choice and not a missing plot point. When you’re asking people to give you feedback don’t ask for their opinion, get them to ask questions.

You can question many different parts of your work – the characters, the story, the structure – just to name a few. If you want your writing to be specific, effective and efficient it’s important to question.


The Top Ten Questions to Ask of Your Work

  1. Why is the first page a great introduction?
  2. Why is the last page a vivid ending?
  3. Why will an audience find the world of your play interesting?
  4. How does each scene move the play forward?
  5. Why do you leave each scene when you do?
  6. Does each character have a unique voice in their dialogue?
  7. Are your characters living the story or are they telling facts?
  8. Does each character have a want? How do they go after it?
  9. What is the main conflict of the play? What are the obstacles?
  10. Is there conflict in every scene?

The 3 Day Rule

three You’ve received some feedback on your manuscript. More than you could ever ask for: notes, questions, graphs, venn diagrams. Everything congeals together into a sucking mud puddle as you sift through comments you agree with, comments you’re not sure about, and comment’s your dead set against. Where do you start? What do you do?

First off, do nothing. Close your notebook and walk away. For now.

The worst action is dive into a draft the same day you receive feedback. 

Your head is swimming with what has been said, perhaps you hate every last note and question. Perhaps the feedback makes you hate your draft. It’s a vulnerable time.

Create some distance. Set a three day rule

All feedback no matter how big or small goes away for three days. Lock it in a drawer. Distance allows you to approach the notes and the draft with fresh eyes.  Feedback makes all writers defensive. We want our work to be unconditionally loved.

So instead of making a snap judgement, take a breath. Take three days worth. Then go back to the script.

A note or a question that feels wrong in the moment, now has value.

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TheThree Day Rule

The Why Draft

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Once you have a first draft it can be hard to figure out the next step. There is often a sense of euphoria attached to a first draft. I did it! It’s done…..isn’t it done? Many writers don’t want to think about diving back into the script.
How do you initiate the rewrite process? Ask and answer questions.
Questions are your best strategy during rewrites. Questions are tangible and practical. You can answer a question, establish that the answer is already in the script, or choose not to answer. It’s all right not to answer a question, so long as you’re being mysterious and not ignoring a plot hole.
The best question to ask is WHY. Asking “why” with your draft will:
  • Clarify character action: Why does Jimmy burn the letter?
  • Clarify story development: Why does the car accident happen before the story begins?
  • Clarify your intentions: Why am I writing this play?
When you answer WHY your work becomes specific, purposeful and efficient. And the best part is the answer you come up with is the right answer. That is the beauty of creative writing.
Start asking WHY of your writing right now.