Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Of Second and Third Drafts

I'm discovering that I write in two-draft cycles. The first draft is a messy splatter of ideas, roughly kept in line by spotty and sometimes vague ideas of plot and character. Draft two is the clean-up. Characters and dialogue are straightened out and correctly tuned, scenes are combed straight of excessive description and other unnecessary frills, and themes, motifs, and plant / payoff elements are identified and strengthened.

This all sounds very orderly, but draft two is still, generally, a mess. It also at this point has existed entirely inside my own skull, and desperately needs outside opinion. So I send it to my closest and most trusted confidants, for what will hopefully be a vigorous and merciless review.

Then I wait, because they've got more urgent things to do than read my scattered, bloated script. I pace the room purposefully and drink a fair amount of wine (I'm in France, dammit, leave me alone), generally feeling lousy about my abilities.

I've now received their stern but fair input, and am working on draft three, feeling reinvigorated. It can be fixed! It can and must be made better! In order to allow myself to get back into the swing of things, however, I need another messy draft. While this one won't be as messy as draft one, draft three will still require a draft four clean-up. My writing cap and my proofreading cap rest on very different pegs - it's impossible, for me, to do both at the same time.

This "free" draft gives me a lot of room to screw up, which is what writing is all about - screwing up over and over again, less and less as you go on, until at the end there's something that is, ideally, in its Least Screwed Up state. Like radiation, of course, it never goes away completely. You just chip and carve at it until you can say, "well, that'll have to do for now."

Most writers have to leave it at that. Luckily, I'm also a filmmaker, so the tinkering's just begun. The Least Screwed Up script is just the beginning. Then begins the process of Least Screwing Up the casting, design, rehearsals, production, and editing.

Anyway, enough procrastinating. Back to screwing up writing.