Fear the Rewrite

A few days ago, I finished the first draft of an action/thriller spec tentatively titled Weekend Getaway. It has something to do with a couple that goes camping with friends, resurfacing ghosts from the past, and lots of running round and shooting through the trees. Killer logline, eh? I had a fun time working on the script, and I managed to crank it out in record time. While I don’t think it turned too horribly, it still needs a lot of work before I show it to anyone. But now I’m stalled out. Stuck.

I would rather vacuum the apartment, clean the bathroom or fight my way through the zombie hordes at Costco than sit down and start revising. Why? My first guess is that I no longer have the impulse to tell the story; it’s out of my head, and the pressure’s off. Lately, I’ve become a big believer in not talking about my work until I complete the first draft. I’ve found that talking about it relaxes my need to write about it; the story has been told. Well, now the story really has been told, and I’m done with it.

Being stalled might have even more to do with the fear of facing reality. Does the script suck? Do I suck for writing it? Do I have any actual talent or ability, or am I just another hack?

Geisler: Look, you confused? You need guidance? Talk to another writer.
Barton: Who?
Geisler: Jesus, throw a rock in here, you’ll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink: throw it hard.
Barton Fink

The initial read-through promises to be more sobering than flashing lights in the rearview mirror. The script will have problems, and I will be forced to face them and fix them. Some of will be intertwined deep, like an undeveloped character or a lackluster storyline, and I’ll have to battle my way through page after page of tweaks. Or maybe I won’t be able to figure out how to fix a major problem, and the script will be set aside. This has happened, and no one wants to see weeks or months of their life put on the shelf. More likely, I’ll just be so overwhelmed with the task ahead that I’ll want to take a nap. And then there’s the rewriting work itself… Ugh.

I know people (myself included) who have struggled through rewrites for years, continually reworking, rethinking and even entirely revamping. We don’t just kill our babies, we napalm them, raise them from the dead, blistered and burned, cut them apart, sew them back up, and then we force them back out into the world. And we do it over and over again. It can be a cruel and painful process.

Does it have to be so awful? Maybe not. There might be ways to survive. First, I don’t think I’ll allow myself to sit down and read it through just yet. That may sound ridiculous, but it could help keep the inner critic and saboteur at bay. Why put myself through the pain when the script is still such a fragile thing? This time, I will try to grind through it all at once, reworking the whole mess as I go; hopefully I don’t stall out. Next will be targeted passes for descriptions and character voices. Finally, I might go back over it for thematic or symbolic details. And then, maybe, I’ll print it out and actually read the damn thing. Hopefully by then it will be able to stand the scrutiny.

I’m also a big believer in goals and deadlines, and sticking to a rewrite deadline could be the difference between a completed script and another project that fades away. This first rewrite will be done on Friday, or I’ll start showing it to people even if it’s not – to my own embarrassment.

It will be an interesting week.

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