Another blog about redrafting


Yes, another one. And I know there are many because when I was stuck and procrastinating in the middle of my latest redraft, I read them all. And I found them useless.

So, on the off-chance that there are other procrastinating playwrights out there trawling through blogs on redrafting and that some of them are exactly like me and will find all my techniques useful, here are my pearls of (dubious) wisdom.

1. Drawer time

Putting plays in a drawer is a magical thing. Whether the drawer is the metaphorical one of not opening that .doc file or a real old-fashioned wooden one, give them a month, or even a couple. Forget all about them. When you take them out again all their flaws will become apparent. You will feel slightly suicidal. And then you will be filled with the strength and energy to start all over again. Honest.

2. Open a new document

You slaved for days over the last draft. It almost killed you. Now I’m suggesting you throw it all away? Not quite, but almost.

You re-read your play. You realised it was flawed. Now it’s right in front of you, you’re beginning to think it’s not that bad after all. A few tweaks here and there should do it.

I disagree. Whatever was good in the last draft, if you really need it, you will either rewrite it, only better, or occasionally (just occasionally) you can copy and paste it. The copy and paste option is best used sparingly and with discernment. As you go through redrafts, it can be used more often. Sometimes, just to check that a scene really is that good, rewrite it. If the original was better, hit copy and paste. You don’t have to lose anything with the Wonders of Modern Technology.

If, however, you’re the aforementioned Old-fashioned Type with the Wooden Drawer, you might be using pen and paper. The advantage of pen and paper is that an automatic redraft is built in. When you transfer your words from page to screen (as surely even the old-fashioned types must), you get to change them.

The other advantage of pen and paper is that you have to go forward. You can’t spend hours tweaking previous scenes and avoiding taking your play to its close. If you’re an obsessive tweaker, going old-fashioned might be a good solution for you. Which brings me to…

3. Finish it

Sounds obvious.  But unless you start a play only to realise that it really is a non-starter (which happens to the best of us), write your draft out to its close. Often, whatever’s wrong with the beginning will become apparent only once you get to what’s wrong with the end. You set things up in Act 1 only to have them played out in Act 3 – so this is where the meat is (it doesn’t have to literally be Act 3, but you know what I mean). This is also why endings are so difficult. Because you have to resolve all the problems you’ve been avoiding about the whole rest of the play in order to come up with the perfect ending. Don’t worry about not getting it right until the very last minute – every play throws up a lot of problems. But you’ll have a better chance of solving them if you finish each redraft en route.

4. Show it

Not to everyone. You’re the best judge of who you want to judge your work, don’t feel forced to give it to someone who you don’t think is going to give you useful feedback at the stage you’re at (Mum, I’m looking at you).

For early drafts, show them to people you trust. You’re never looking for pure validation, that’s useless, but when you’re still throwing ideas around you need to feel safe and sure that no-one’s going to laugh you out of town or tell you to find another career. The best feedback-giver is the person who tries to get to the heart of what you want to create, and help you to get there. Whether they like your style of not. If you find one of those, hold on to them.

At later stages, you need to be more brave. But if you’re reading this blog, I think you know that, right? You need to put your work out there and get feedback from scary people, including people who work at actual theatres that put on work written by people like you. But remember, if they don’t like it, someone else will. And if no-one likes it, I suggest you write another play and come back to that one in a year or two. If it’s still as great as you thought, that’s cool because you’ll be rich at that point and you’ll put it on yourself to great critical acclaim. If it’s not great, well, you obviously learned from it, because your new one IS.

5. Don’t trust your dreams

This is purely flippant. I’m putting it in because all lists should be made up of either five or ten points, as everybody knows. But seriously, you will dream about your work. You will wake up at 4am thinking “Shit, I haven’t addressed the question of hijab in my play” and then in the cold light of day you will realise that’s because it’s irrelevant to what you’re writing about. And what is the ‘question of hijab’ anyway? True example.

Your dreams are full of shit. I know you really think you should write them down at the time but, trust me, don’t bother. Daydreams, however, that’s what it’s all about. Spend time in the bath or shower, go for long walks, stare at the ceiling. Don’t feel guilty about it. This is when the magical moments happen, when those problems get solved, when those great ideas come into your head. And this time? Write it down.