Friday, January 9, 2015

Exercises in Revision #1: You Are Not Going to Cry

A while back, I promised that after this series, I would post some exercises in revision. Here's the first one.

These are just things to try. Everyone works differently, and you'll have to experiment to figure out what's best for you. If I say, "just make brief notes and set the piece aside," but instead you get a burning urge to make extensive notes, start your revision right away, and stay up all night to finish it, then that's what you have to do. Trust your own writer's instincts, follow them and see what happens; that's the best way to hone them.

That said: the first step in revising is normally to read over your work, preferably after you've put it away for a while. For some people this means a couple of days, for some a couple of weeks or months. You should let some time elapse, even if you're on a tight deadline and that only means going out for a walk.

A great thing to do during this waiting period is to have others read it: a friend, a writing group, a workshop class or an editor. Listen to their comments, and take notes.

When you read back through it yourself after your break, it may be surprisingly easy to tell whether your piece is working well or not. Unfortunately the answer will usually be that it's not. That's okay. That's because it's a first draft.

Your first assignment is just to read it, and make very brief notes to yourself in the margins. Don't let the note-making break up the flow of your reading: you want to see it as an outside observer would.

There's a screenwriting book I love called How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King. Whether it can actually be used to write a million-dollar screenplay in three weeks, I'm not sure. Blake Snyder claims he did it. I'm sure there's some truth in that; my hunch is it was also a plug he offered by way of appreciation for all the inspiration it provided for his classic Save the Cat. (If you read both books, you'll see what I mean.) In any case, it's full of great advice. Here are King's instructions for the day you take that first draft out and read it over:
Here's what you are not going to do today:
You are not going to judge your script. You are not going to ask, "Am I a writer?" You are not going to cry. 
A word about good and bad. Your script isn't either of these and it's always both. You are not allowed to ask, "Is it good? Is it bad?" . . .
What you have is a work in progress. This day in the process is to see what's there and to begin to see what needs to be added.  
And then when you're done reading, she advises:
Now lie down on the floor. Let it hold you. Rest your bones. Is your neck stiff? Let it all go. You're finished writing. All you have to do now is rewrite.
And rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite . . .

But you're on your way.

Next: What's Wrong

You are not going to cry.
Optical illusion by Mprintochainis

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