INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
Over the years, we’ve developed a number of techniques to take some of the pain out of the rewrite process. It’s inevitably going to be a little painful, because you have to confront the fact that you’re writing isn’t perfect. Yet.
I use these techniques when I work as a writing coach for private clients. Different tactics are more or less effective for different writers. There’s nothing magic about any one of these. The point is to make a game of the rewrite to keep yourself from taking it so seriously that you get blocked. I realize some of these are going to be way too cutesy, or too woo woo, for some of you serious writer types. Maybe you’ll feel differently the next time you’re in the middle of a pit of rewrite despair and considering slitting your wrists.
1. Say That / Don’t Say That – If you happen to have one of those ugly dolls that has one smiling side and one side that has its tongue sticking out, s/he can tell you which lines to say and which ones not to say when you’re rewriting a script for performance or for a reading. I guess the fact that a stuffed animal is giving the notes somehow ‘cushions’ the blow.
2. Let Some Words Go Play With Their Friends in the Outs File – If you’re having a hard time cutting a particular line, scene or section, try this. ‘Temporarily’ moving sections into your Outs file avoids insulting your carefully honed language. You aren’t cutting it, you’re just moving it to the Outs file (you should definitely have an Outs file for each individual project). Of course, material exiled to the Outs file rarely returns to the current piece. But it can provide good material or jumping off points for future work.
3. Fudgie T’s – This is an easy game to play. Read through the draft without paying any attention to the main chunks of material. Just look at the transitions. If a segue seems creaky, that’s a ‘Fudgie T’ (fudged transition). Focus just on connecting point A to point B. If you’re having trouble that might be a flag that one of the sections you’re trying to join might not be right. Maybe you don’t need that transitioin because you don’t need one of the sections.
4. Flag It, Don’t Nag It – This is another fast-moving and relatively easy rewrite technique. Read through and if you stumble on something or find something you don’t love, flag it for later.
5. Selling Not Dwelling – This is an out loud rewrite technique that requires a coach or writing buddy. Try pitching each of the beats of your story. Sell them what’s great, juicy, surprising, moving, funny about each beat, but don’t dwell. If you can’t sell it, maybe the beat isn’t right, because if you can’t sell it, who can?
6. Keep It Or Sweep It – Read through your piece and simply give each paragraph or beat a check or an x. Do you want to keep it or sweep it? This is a good way to work if you don’t have Two-ey to help you decide what to say or not say.
7. Ask a Pendulum – Yes, really. You don’t have to buy a fancy one from the local woo-woo store. Any necklace or string with a weight on the end will do. Hold the string/chain and let the weight hang straight down so it can swing freely (like you want to!). Now ask the pendulum to show you ‘yes’. For most people that means it will swing towards and away from you.
It may take a little practice to get the pendulum to move at all. It took me a few weeks. Beth, of course, had hers flying on practically the first try. Anyway, get the pendulum to show you ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (with most people ‘no’ means the pendulum starts moving side to side). The hard part is getting your pendulum to speak to you. But it makes rewriting decisions awfully easy. And quick. The pendulum loves to play ‘Keep it or Sweep it’. Or ‘Should I keep working on this passage now’. Or “Is it time for a drink’? Hint: it’s best if you’re very specific. The pendulum can be mischievous.
I’m inventing new games all the time and encourage you to make up your own. If you find one that’s particularly effective, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).