Ego, the enemy of the first draft

I’ve said it before. The worst thing any creative writer could carry through his or her process is ego. Ego is the most formidable enemy when it comes to editing a first draft.

A lot of times, emerging writers need help even after they complete a first draft. When I first started out writing screenplays, my biggest adversity was editing the manuscript once I wrote the phrase Fade Out on the final page. Looking back, the main reason for this was I was using a typewriter, not word processing software on a laptop, and a lot of times I was just lazy to go back and retype so much to much edits.

However, having made the change to a laptop, editing has since become the favorite and most exciting part of my own creative process. If you feel lost after you have completed the first draft of your writing project, I would love to help you with the next step. Please feel free to Work with Me, and let’s get that first draft into a final draft so it’s ready for the world to see.

For now, here are some of the things I do when I’m editing my first draft of any script and keep the project moving forward to achieve its best version.

The biggest sword you can wield against your own ego to edit material of which you have become emotionally attached is objectivity.

Objectivity is the hardest thing for a writer working on a new project to maintain. When I’m working on a new script, obviously I’m going to be in love with it. If I wasn’t in love with it, I wouldn’t keep working on it. After my first draft is complete, that’s when the objectivity has to kick in.

Some writers that I’ve worked with have been so in love with their first drafts, they throw it out to producers trying to hook them for a production without ever really stepping back and seeing what they’ve truly put together. And then there are some writers who will actually take the disinterest in their work personally, maybe even forcing them to quit altogether.

Objectivity can save a writer from all of that. So this is what I do to make sure I give myself a chance to give the work it’s best chance. It’s actually a fairly simple process.

1) Finish the first draft. Print the manuscript out. Bind it. Write “First Draft” on the cover.

2) (and this is the most important step) LET IT SIT! Let the manuscript sit in a drawer, on a shelf, on the counter next to the coffee maker; doesn’t matter where. Just let it sit. And let it sit for TWO WEEKS AT LEAST. Why? That is the key to objectivity. Forget about what’s in that script. Start developing a new one. If you can start writing vivid scenes of a new project, start to find yourself falling in love with THAT one. Once you’ve gained distance from your first draft, then come back it like an editor not as a writer.

So give your first draft enough time for you to fall out of love with it. Then go back to it. Find a place where you can sit down undisturbed for a while, bring a pen and read your script from start to finish; maybe not in one sitting.

From there, mark the living crap out of it. Scrutinize like an accountant looking for missing money. Every description, line of dialogue, stage direction. Look for everything and anything that could be deemed confusing; voice, consistent character responses, word choice, congruence, angles, everything. For me it’s tenses. I always find mistakes where my stage directions switch from present to past tense and back.

Mark it up and be proud of it. Ask yourself with every scene, “What purpose is this serving the story or character(s) as a whole.” If you can’t find a reason, cut the whole scene and don’t look back. Put one big line through those pages and move on.

Recently, I listened to an episode of The Playwrighting Podcast by Ken Wolf, artistic director of Manhattan Repertory Theatre in NYC. If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast yet, it is well worth your time to do so. Wolf teaches much of the same writing process I’ve used for years and his philosophy is spot on.

In a recently episode of the podcast (Ep. 120-Words, Words, Words!), Wolf said something very interesting when it comes to editing dialogue after the first draft is complete. He suggests dialogue should be driving the story forward with no more than two lines each character, unless the character is expressing something emotional. If the dialogue is driving plot, it should only take one or two lines.

Wolf also said the editing process should be done in at least five rounds to ensure the material is congruent. He admitted five rounds of editing sounds crazy, but he swears combing through dialogue this many times will help ensure the script isn’t too wordy in its final draft.

Imagine that; editing your manuscript five times over before you could call it finished. This is I feel why playwrighting is a labor of love. However, I know some emerging writers have issues with this part of the process. Some feel it is mundane and as exciting as a root canal.

This is why I am here as Benn Farrell Freelance to help those writers who need an objective eye on his or her manuscript. Let me help you take what will be the final draft to the next level and save you the aggravation of the editing process. It excites me, and I’m excited to help you.

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