Need a cocktail? You thought you were close to being done… You rewrote your script or memoir or novel, finding the weak spots, brightening up the dialogue, proofed it, gave your masterpiece a kiss and sent it off to some respected friends for feedback.
You imagined yourself meeting with producers as they praised your characters, your brilliant twists and turns. You could see the cover of your book in your mind’s eye—a girl, standing in the fog, staring at a haunted mansion. A photo of you as a child holding a broken wagon.
Then you get the call. “It’s really great!” your respected friends say, “I just have some minor thoughts.”
You are jubilant. You can make these minor tweaks then send your baby off into the world!
You meet your friends (if you’re smart, you will have given it to more than one person, to get multiple notes in order to find the consistent problems.) And wham.
These notes are not minor. In fact, they are HUGE. Structural. They involve re-thinking not just the way the story unfolds, but what the story is about.
You thought you were done, but in fact, you are back to square one and now the grind truly begins. And when I say “grind,” I mean GRIND. Literally reducing your story elements to powdery dust by crushing them, then building them up again into different shapes and sizes.
Welcome to Rewrite Hell.
By the way, just so you know, I was inspired to write this blog because I too recently discovered I am facing some major re-thinking on a project, when I thought the hard thinking was done.
So, here are my tips on how to deal with Rewrite Hell.
1. Feel free to cry. For at least a week.
2. Drink too many Lychee Martinis.
3. Sober up and collate all the feedback you’ve gotten. Write down the notes that are consistent (things that work, things that don’t.) Spell the notes out in your own words so you will understand them later.
4. Put the script or manuscript away for a significant amount of time. If you’re not on deadline, two months is good. If you’re on deadline, a couple of days. You want to give yourself enough distance so that you can actually “see” your story when next you pick it up.
5. Read your pages again and make a plan. Decide which notes serve the story you want to tell and figure out how to implement them. Sometimes people have the wrong idea about how to solve the problems, but they’re right that there’s trouble. How can you fix the issues that were consistently mentioned by your friends, and do it in your own way?
6. If you need to restructure, make a new outline.
7. Start on page one and rewrite your way through the new outline. Some scenes will stay the same, some will be radically different, and some will completely vanish.
8. When you’re finished, drink one lychee martini.
9. Start outlining your next project. You need something to live for.
10. Send the draft out to your TWO most trusted, brilliant writer friends.
11. Make any changes you feel are helpful from these final notes (beware of endless churning here…)
12. Send it out and let it go.
13. Start writing your next project.
Take Action! If you’ve just gotten notes that have thrown you into a tailspin, don’t despair. Take some time to get perspective, then make a plan. Figure out which notes are helpful and eliminate the rest. Make a new outline. Rewrite. Send it out again.
Remember, grinding is part of the process, but perfection is the enemy of art. Do the best you can, then move on to the next project.
Being a writer is like being a shark. You can’t stop moving.
Except to drink lychee martinis.