We all know about the agony caused by a blank page. Staring at a blinking cursor willing it to write itself. Even non-writers know about this. But I’m not convinced starting is the hardest or most painful part of the process. For me once you crack through the barrier of getting yourself to start it’s a joy. Because there are no rules. You can jump down any rabbit hole you want and pop back up again in another completely different hole. It doesn’t have to make sense. Because it’s a first draft. And I say allow yourself the freedom not to know what it is.
But then comes the redrafting. And that’s where the hard work, the real grafting, and the pain comes. Because worse than a blank page is a page full of words and ideas you now need to make into something sensible. And it’s here that I try to make myself write prose. Because it’s easy to hide in a script – under an exciting image or witty bit of dialogue. But in the clarity of prose – a sentence summing up a scene or the play/film/TV pilot – you can’t hide.
What is actually happening in this scene dramatically? How is it feeding into my overall story?
Another way of looking at redrafting is the bar test: we’ve all been there, in a bar – or a café or at a party or at parent-teacher night – and you mention you write scripts. In fact you’re writing one at the moment. And then it comes: What’s it about?
Well it’s kinda…sorta…thematically…it explores…
And their face falls. And so does yours because you realise you don’t actually know what they want to know. Which is: what happens? It’s this I force myself to be clear on with myself in redrafting. Because no one ever came out of a play or a film and said: there were some really good themes in that.
What we say is: I loved it when X did Y. Or, can you believe that part where…
Allow yourself to write brilliant dialogue and explore themes and ideas and images in the first draft. And then in redrafting forget about the clever language and just tell yourself the story.