A few people worried I wouldn’t be able to finish writing Movement and Location because I started over so many times. But once I got to draft seventeen, I didn’t touch it again. I changed nothing on set. It felt completely done to me.
When I revise, I work my way through the entirety of the script, as fast as possible, skipping whatever I can’t figure out, and I aim to clear 10-20 pages a day. I call that a pass. Between 3-9 passes gets me a draft, which is the best that I can make it. A draft is what I share with people for notes.
Right now I have a new feature script called Behave, which I began writing in January of 2015 and began again from scratch in January of 2016. I finished my page one rewrite this afternoon. It’s draft nine.
I don’t love that my process involves starting over, but with Movement and Location, my many rewrites made the story better and easier to film. I’m hopeful that the same thing happens with this new one. It’s a hard mental adjustment to make, thinking that I’m done and then the cold shower of realizing I’m wrong. But once I get over that, it’s freeing to delete whatever I want. There were things in Behave I felt married to because I thought of them first and there were dynamics and locations I found boring but they were too baked into the existing structure to remove. I kept the most basic one-sentence premise and most of the primary characters. Everything else is new.
So what’s to keep me from rewriting forever? An excellent question, although one I’d like to be asked less often.
When I’m working on something, I know I don’t need any more passes if I left nothing undone in the pass that came before. For instance, summaries of complicated scenes have been replaced with the scenes themselves. All the placeholder dialogue is out. I’ve cut down my overwritten action lines. I think of how water carves rock, by rushing past it again and again. I do passes until I can get through the whole thing and nothing snags. I hunt for moments that make me think, if I were watching this as a movie, here’s where I’d glance at my phone.
At the end of that process I have a draft, and I finish each draft in good faith that I’m done writing. I am wrong about this until I’m not. Dan Savage says: Every relationship in your life will fail, until one doesn’t. I would add: Same with drafts.
With the last draft of the script for Movement and Location, the feedback I got from readers changed. It was more positive in general, although some people still had problems with it. But their negative feedback didn’t make me defensive or inspire new ideas. I just didn’t agree with it, which is how I knew I didn’t need to listen.
This brand new ninth draft of Behave just went out to a group of people I trust. I’m typing these words in the surreality that precedes receiving any kind of feedback at all. Maybe I made it worse. I might have gotten rid of everything that made the story interesting. It’s really, really different from draft eight. I don’t think I made it worse, but if I did, I hope someone tells me. I’d rather know while it’s words on paper and not video in an edit suite.
So I might be done. I feel done. I feel great, actually. I put an enormous amount of effort into this draft and had a ball writing it (not true for prior drafts) and I think those things come across. But everything will fail until it doesn’t. The trick is having faith that I can get it to that point, whether that’s this draft or takes me ten more tries.
I do have faith. I know I have it in me to hack at the thing until it’s worth the five years of my life to make.
But fingers crossed someone reads it soon.