Being a Professional Writer and the Power of Rewrite

Beth Brandon

Congratulations! You finished a draft! This is something to be very proud, excited, anxious, elated, thrilled, and terrified about. By finishing this draft you have single handedly pushed yourself above the ranks of those who could not finish a draft. Take a deep breath. Pat your back. Or have someone pat it for you. There are far less of us who finish. Trust me. (Go check out the stats. I’ll wait.)

So. Now what? Where do you go from here?

Let’s face it first drafts are notoriously awful. Everyone writes bad first drafts. Even Paul Haggis and Diablo Cody (although I’ve never actually read a first draft of either of theirs, but I imagine they’re just like the rest of us.)

Here’s the good news: What you finished (and yay you finished it!) is by far the worst draft you will ever write. Why is this good news? Because you’re a professional writer and your script will only get better.

Maybe I should take a minute to define what I think a professional writer is.

  1. A professional writes every day. Sick. Tired. Drained of creativity. They still write.
  2. A professional does not have to have sold a script or even had one optioned.
  3. A professional does not need to live in Los Angles, or New York (although it's helpful down the line but that’s a whole other "How To.")
  4. A professional embraces the power of the rewrite.
  5. And most importantly, a professional writes every single day. Yes I realize I’ve said this once already, but it’s so important that it needed to be said a second time. So suck it up.

I know what you’re thinking. What does being a "professional writer" have to do with my rewrite? Glad you asked. 

Anyone can be a writer. All it takes is a pen and some paper and voila, you’re a writer. But professionals know it’s not that easy. If it was, then everyone with a pen and some paper would not only be published authors, but would also have studio deals, and Broadway openings.

I like to compare writers to surgeons because really when it comes down to it, a surgeon is just a chick with a knife. Right? But we all know (maybe because we’re addicted to Grey's Anatomy), that to become a surgeon takes years, sometimes decades of study and practice. I would never grab a scalpel, stroll into my local hospital, and sign myself up for the next scheduled surgery.

So if you are a writer, as you claim to be, you must commit, embrace, and live for the entire writing process, including the multitude of rewrites.

Enough about being "professional." How do I rewrite my crappy first draft!?

This is subjective, and in my experience, mostly discovered through trial and error. Some like to go page-by-page, word-by-word, and find/replace with new material. Others like to take chunks of scenes, break them apart from the script, and make sure each scene builds to a final climax. Some like to work with a partner or writing group, and receive notes and suggestions of how to improve the script.

The one truth across the board is that rewriting is the creation of new, better, and more suited material. If you’ve changed a line here, or a character’s name, you have not rewritten. You’ve adjusted. Tweaked. Polished. But not rewritten.

Before you dive into the rewrite take a minute to go through your script. Highlight what you like, cross out what’s not quite working yet, and brainstorm some new, original, fresh scenes to take their place. You will ultimately get rid of at least one scene that you've come to love. This is typical, and don't be afraid of it.

So your script isn’t going to rewrite itself. And thank goodness for that! Because, now, you get to be the coolest, most brilliant of professional writer's because you get to find the new material that hasn’t yet been written.

Good luck!