Rewriting. To some, this is where the joy of creativity is set alight, the chariots of fire stampede, ablaze with inspiration. For others, it is more akin to having your fingernails slowly removed in a dingy room under a dim bulb. I probably fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. But wherever you fall, rewriting is the reality of screenwriting, of all writing, and I thought I’d take some time out from the 15th draft of my romantic comedy, Chemical Attraction, to offer some pointers on how to keep your chin up through the process.
Here are five suggestions for keeping up your stamina and not losing your mind:
1) Break it down into baby steps. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the mountain in front of you, first of all, read Rewrite by Paul Chiklit, who offers a great approach to the fundamentals of rewriting screenplays. Then break your ‘to do’ list down into manageable chunks, whether by number of pages or focusing only on one aspect of the script with each pass through, such as all the dialogue of one character or her arc.
2) Keep pitching your story to friends, family, and the postman. Even though we should all pitch our stories before we write them, we don’t always do it. But continuing to pitch to your story can illuminate new aspects to your evolving script you might not have thought of, and also get your comfortable with this deadly necessary skill. Or take an online pitching class like Good In a Room from Stephanie Palmer, former executive and author of the book of the same name, where you will get practice pitching to new people each week. The course uses Google Docs and Google Hangout as its platform and is well worth the admission price of a couple hundred dollars. I took it after I had already written several drafts and it really pointed up some major pieces of the story that I still needed to deal with.
3) Put it on the shelf. Sometimes when you get frustrated, hit a block, or have just received some harsh feedback, it can be the best thing to put your script on the shelf for a couple of weeks, or longer, and work on something completely different. Your unconscious will work on it while you take a break and you’ll likely come back to it with some new ideas on how to proceed. In the meantime, start something new.
4) Stage a reading. Organise a stage reading of your script with actors. There is nothing like hearing your script in progress aloud to give you inspiration and ideas for pushing forward. The process can point up clunky dialogue, get actors’ perspectives on how actable your scenes really are, get feedback from an audience, as well as give you encouragement that there really is a movie in there somewhere. More: 7 steps To Stage A Script Reading By Nidhi Gupta.
5) Get script coverage. There may be ample debate on whether it’s worth the money to use a coverage service, but in my opinion and for my money, it has been worth it. Critical writer friends and other trusted readers are like gold dust, but we are always mindful of people’s time and sometimes asking friends to read an evolving script more than once is hard. As screenwriting career consultant, Lee Jessup, has written, screenplay coverage can be hit and miss and it’s about finding the best reader for your particular genre, hopefully through a recommendation. But astute coverage can really push your script to the next level and it is reassuring to know that your script is being judged against the criteria that actual readers for producers and executives will be using to evaluate your script.
Finally, when is it time to stop rewriting and introduce your baby to the world?
- When it’s been as thoroughly vetted by trusted sources as it possibly can be, which means it’s not coming back with big red flags on the major and minor elements of the story.
- When you feel, in your heart and soul, and in the callouses on your fingertips, that you have taken it as far as you possible can.
- Then, to borrow from the wisdom of Scott Myers of Go Into the Story, just let it go. There is a point at which you have to accept that you cannot control what will happen to your script and you have done all you can do. Maybe it will sell or maybe it won’t, but you, at the very least, should have a good writing sample and most certainly, become a better writer through the process.
Now hurry up and start the next one.
BIO: Holly Hudson originated in the Midwest but keeps winding up across the pond. She is an actor turned screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. She wrote and directed a short film, Pipe Dreams, which starred Elaine Stritch and was more recently a finalist in the Sidewalk Film Festival with her short script, Parallel Lines. She blogs about travels with her son at Have Son, Will Travel.
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