It’s a startling revelation. It’s a I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening occurrence. It stops you dead in your tracks when, after writing this masterwork of your’s and knowing in your heart of hearts that you are finished, you realize that you must write it again.
This “oh crap” moment is a fresh one for me. After playing with the script for my new play for over a year, I thought the last version I wrote of it was exactly that: the last version. Oh how wrong I was. As we prepped for our first read with our cast, we realized there was a lot that needed to be fixed. Like the entire order of the script, the intentions of the characters and basically the whole play. We spent the better part of last weekend and Monday afternoon getting the script ready for our actors to perform on Monday night. It seemed awful and impossible that we would take on such a task at such a late stage of the game. Yet here we were tinkering away until the wee hours; creating new scenes and fixing old ones.
Over my career, I’ve had great minds and even better friends try to tell me how incredible the rewriting experience can be. I’ve heard it poetically described as ‘sculpting’ or ‘refining’. I’ve heard successful writers say that rewrites are their favorite part of the process. “Well, good for you”, has always been my response. I find rewriting to mostly be a painful and annoying experience. I like the feeling of being done. I like moving on to new projects. I think that’s why I like baking. Nobody every asks you to go back in and put more chocolate in a cake or take out the nuts from a pan of brownies. When you’re done, you’re done. Not so with writing especially when it comes to theater. See, what works in my brilliant brain does not always work on stage. Hearing it out loud is essential to the work and the rewriting process. Write it, hear it, write again is usually the chain of events for this playwright.
So after nibbling on late-night pizza, navigating through a sea of tears and hurt feelings and fixing pages and pages of dialogue; I figured something about rewriting and writing it again. My little mantra, the one I tell writers and myself, applies here too. “Keep Writing” is a great motivator at the start of a project and helps you when you get stuck in th muddy middle. And as I discovered this week, Keep Writing, is an idea that works well during rewrites too. Being open to the idea that maybe it isn’t perfect and maybe it could use a big dash of something else, I became willing to keep writing on something I really, really really wanted to be done with.
The moral of this story is that I indeed kept writing and by doing so we were finally able to break open what the story was really about while trimming off the parts that have never worked. Hot off the press, our actors had a script that sounded amazing and that now really needs almost nothing. I heard the show I wanted to hear and it was a fabulous experience. Does this mean we have to like the rewrite process? No. But if we keep writing (and rewriting) we can get to magical places we never dreamed possible.