Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Write fast, rewrite slowly

I had half a million words professionally published last year, in one form or another - novels, audio dramas, comics, articles and the like. I'm a sprint writer, particularly at first draft stage. On a novel I aim to produce at least 4000 words a day when I'm thrashing out the initial version. When it comes to rewriting, I try to take my time, because the more time I take, the better the end result.

Unfortunately, I'm also a lazy writer. For all my discipline when it comes to a first draft, all in the past I've been all too willing to drag the chain on subsequent drafts. It's particularly true when I'm writing other people's characters and I know I'll never see a royalty. Once I've done enough to earn my work for hire fee, a small part of my brain begrudges the effort required to do any more. It's a bad habit and a terrible trap into which to fall: hack writing at its worst.

Doing the MA Screenwriting course has made me buck my ideas up. If I want to improve my writing, if I want to move on from writing other people's characters, if I want commissioning editors and script editors to take me seriously, I first have to take this job seriously myself. Be professional if you want to become a professional. Not being a British national, I'm not eligible for any financial assistance to help pay my way through college. [That's not to say I'd have gotten any, even if I was eleigible - a lot of people on my MA applied and didn't get much or any help.] I'm spending thousands of pounds trying to improve my grasp of the craft and graft required to make it as a screenwriter. It's time to put the same level of effort and committment into my work outside the course.

For example, I'm working on the second draft of my radio play for the BBC. When broadcast, it'll only last 15 minutes and the script's not mean to be more than 3200 words in total. But I'm busting a gut to make everyone of those words count. I'm questioning the value of every scene, every story beat, every line, every word. And that takes time - a lot of it. But I want this script to be the best I can write, in the hope it'll help me secure a new commission, and then another.

Commissioners are looking for talent, skill and professionalism, but ultimately they're also looking for unique voices, writers with something to say and the craft to say it. Have I found my voice yet? Maybe. Anyway, I need to get back to my final scene. I'm hoping to have an invited read-through of the radio script tomorrow night, to identify places where it's not quite working and find solutions. To make that happen, I've got to finish this draft. Time to go.

1 comment:

Gordon said...

What is this strange 'second draft' thing of which you speak, David?