Tag Archives: Rewriting

The first draft is … a work in progress.

So you’ve just typed ‘THE END’. Whatever it was, and no matter how long or short it was, you’re flush with a sense of achievement . You’ve done it – you started, got past the middle and romped home to the end. Time to stick it on the shelf and give yourself some distance.

Some writers keep everything on the cloud but I like a couple of ring binders and print off every chapter of the first draft as I finish it. Then it’s like a real book when I come to the critical re-read and it’s as though I’m approaching virgin territory. Did I really write that?

At least a month after finishing the first draft, I begin to read.  The way I work is at the beginning of each chapter I insert a page.  At the top I put a heading, ‘First Impressions’  and half way down the page another heading, ‘Narrative’.

First impressions are useful because sometimes there’s a distance of several months between writing the first draft and reading it again and that gives you the brutal honesty you’ll need  to make it better.   You know instantly when something isn’t working, when it’s not dramatic enough, even when it’s in the wrong viewpoint.  And while your spirit might sink at the thought of all the work ahead, your pride won’t let you step away.   You invested so much time in creating that world,  no matter how many drafts it will take, you’ve going to get it right.

The Narrative section is perhaps more important.  Under this heading as you read, you’re going to jot down the precise plot points of what has happened in that chapter.  Even if you think you know it off by heart, when you strip away all the description and simply list the events that move the plot along, you can be surprised to find contradictions and improbabilities, sometimes downright hilarious.

You can also find yourself having to make big changes and it’s important not to fudge around them.  You’ll know when something’s not working and has to be changed.  Grasp the nettle even if you’ll need tons of imaginary dock leaves later.

Happy editing!

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Filed under Constructive Criticism, Novels, Rewriting

The trouble with not writing is you can’t stop thinking about it.

So the 80,000 word first draft is in a binder behind me on the bookshelf – well it is physically, but it may as well be in my hands as I try to get on with some other stuff – other stuff being not the novel that’s preoccupied me for so long.

Now’s the opportunity to write one of those short story ideas that have plagued the life out of me for the last six months and been slapped into place on the to-do list (the one in my head) because I needed to do one thing and one thing only – get to those two words that have beckoned on the horizon, glimmering in a literary, glowing, writers’ Shangri-la way – THE END.

Except the book won’t go away – it’s neither the characters nor the story – they’re lost somewhere in a mist. Instead in my brain the book is a solid object, with no name. It can’t be opened – it just sits there, a massive block of imaginary concrete that’s infuriating me and stopping me going anywhere, creatively anyway.

There’s always research – may as well check out those facts I wove into fiction – and there’s the concrete block again. Free range reading’s out – skimming, scanning and recording’s in. Everything to service the book again.

The deadline looms for the first edit. I console myself – who was it said “The first draft is always s**t?”

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Filed under Characters, Novels

Shit Sandwiches and what made you cry when you were eight years old

It was eleven pm and I’d finished a few hours working on a difficult part of my children’s novel.  I’d run out of steam and my eyes were hurting.  It was time to call it a night but the siren call of the internet, which I’d ignored all day, stopped me closing the system down. Ten minutes emptying my in-box was just good housekeeping and there might even be something important and life changing in there. Peculiar how you convince yourself to ignore your tired eyes and behave like a four year old who doesn’t want to go to bed in case they miss something.  But I was glad I did because I came across this post and it made a great deal of sense.

http://markmanson.net/life-purpose/

Mark Manson’s question ‘what kind of shit sandwich would you be prepared to eat to realise your goal or dream in life’, isn’t something I’d ever asked myself because my drive to write was so strong that I was prepared to take any amount of rejection in order to succeed – and at the time, success was getting published. But what happens in the low periods, when inspiration or the so called muse escapes you, what drives you then – that’s where your eight year old self comes into play.  Back then, when I scribbled stories in an old exercise paper, I had no idea of publishing; I wrote because just the very business of escaping into a world of make believe, all of my own making was worth it.  I wrote the kind of things I enjoyed reading, reproducing the pleasure and the excitement over and over again.  The writing itself was enough, even though it wasn’t very good but at the time I was happily ignorant of that. It wasn’t until I grew older and got distracted by puberty that I wrote less and when I returned to it at different times over the next few years, I’d find I’d hit a brick wall – not writer’s block – I just didn’t have the skills or the technique or the tools to carry on.

The shit sandwich of rejection that would be coming later, had a different filling  to the one I had to chew then – I had to write in order to find how to make my writing work now I could see that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t convincing or credible and that my reader wouldn’t suspend their disbelief.   Looking back on things I wrote during that period, I can see some outstanding scenes and passages amongst the dross but at the time the sandwich of failure was hard to swallow.   It was excruciatingly painful.  You can take classes and join writers’ groups but the only way through this period is to keep on writing and I wanted to be a better writer so much I was prepared to do it.

If my eight old year self had been told I wasn’t any good and I should stop, would I have given up?  I don’t think so.  I was a very determined, bloody minded, ‘I’ll show them’ kind of girl – and maybe that’s what you need to keep going, because there are plenty of nay sayers along the way and plenty of cutting comments and the further you go in your career, the more vicious they can become.   So it might have made me cry but it wouldn’t have made me give up.   I’ve always taken heart from William Goldman, the writer of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who said “Nobody knows anything.”

In his blog, Mark Manson asks what kind of olive do you want to eat with your sandwich.  My olive has always been to get better at what I love doing because if I get better, then the chances of being published or produced are increased and also because at the end of a long day’s writing, I can go to sleep with an easy mind, a sense of fulfilment and  if I’m not too tired, a quick look at the internet.

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Filed under Rewriting, Writing and rejection

Pitching and loglines

I’ve pitched a few projects recently at two very different events – one was the London Screenwriters’ Festival and the other, a Creative England ifeatures networking event. The LSF was organised with strict time limits on the individual pitches – five minutes and then move on to the next one.  Held over the three days of the Festival, there were an average of eight to ten producers in each session and anything up to thirty people pitching.  In the session – about an hour, I pitched to seven of the eight producers and got requests from six of them.   Even if your project doesn’t get picked up, it’s worthwhile attending because you’re making connections, getting contact details and the most valuable part of the process, seeing how your log line stands up.

The networking event was more relaxed and probably closest to the kind of pitching situation we’re likely to find ourselves in but the same criteria applied to the log line.

Blake Snyder highlighted this in “Save the Cat”.  He recommended before you typed Scene 1, you test marketed your pitch on complete strangers and assessed at what point they lost interest, because if you can’t keep their attention, how are you going to keep anyone else’s?  And that point where they look away or just look plain bored is where I go back and look at the story.

But it can work the other way as well, sometimes by sheer accident, the log line will come out slightly different and you’ll see the affect it has and you’ll know you need to go back and look at your script and make sure it reflects what you’ve just seen and felt.  And the feeling wins every time.

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Filed under Film writing, Pitching, Rewriting

Never, ever, ever throw anything away.

NEVER, EVER, EVER, THROW ANYTHING AWAY

A writer I knew once, in the depths of despair after a snowstorm of rejections – like buses, they always arrive together – took every single thing she had ever written and made a bonfire in the garden and burnt it all, and swore never to write another word again.

First of all, let me make it clear, I was not this writer, as in “There’s this friend of mine …” I’m not a good liar, which is why I probably write fiction. Everyone knows you’ve made it up, so it doesn’t matter and you also get to practise the lying part. And secondly, if I ever set fire to everything I’d ever written, I’d need a far larger location than my garden.

But the thing I admired about my friend, the writer, was the certainty with which she could decide to destroy all that time and effort, all those ideas, all the emotional input and give up writing. I wished I could be that brave, that sure of never needing to get those infernal words out of my head. If you can stop writing and not miss it, then you are very lucky. I’ve taken breaks from writing and filled them with travelling, working abroad, jam making and allotments and finally children before I gave up and went back to writing, bizarrely when I had the least time of all.

Just because you’ve had something rejected many times over, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for it somewhere, (see Rejection and the Boomerang post). A few years ago, I wrote a short film script. It was a coming of age story and it attracted some interest but never got made. It garnered its own little pile of rejections but I’d rather have that than dust and then out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. A friend needed a script for a group of actors. Did I have anything that would fit? I had something that was almost right – that coming of age story. Since writing the original, I’ve changed computers several times and whilst everything’s backed up on disks, it was much easier to open a filing drawer and put my hand on the script.

There’s something about hard copy that’s satisfying – the feel of paper in your hand and it’s harder to ignore or pass over in the way you can a title in a document file. You can’t delete it in a temporary angst driven aberration. Like my writer friend, you have to give it a proper funeral pyre and if you expend all your energy in blue sky thinking like me, that’s a deterrent in itself.

But when you unearth this old script, be prepared. It’ll be a bit like seeing yourself in an old photograph next to a mirror – you’ll have moved on a fair few years but it’s what’s inside your head that matters not the exterior and best of all, your story gets another chance and you, another bite at the cherry. So whatever way you store it, hang on to it – all that person power and imagination. Don’t consign it to the digital dustbin or add to global warming. Keep it safe.

“Last Tango” is now in post production at ALRA North, Wigan.

There’s a special summer offer on my Anthology, “Life, Love and Holidays” on Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Love-and-Holidays-ebook/dp/B00B1EP2FC/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1376140013&sr=1-2&keywords=Life%2C+Love+and+Holidays

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Filed under Film writing, Short films, Writing and rejection