There are two major types of writers in the world: those who love to write, and those who love to have written. Whichever category you fall into, you must learn to love to rewrite because that is where the art truly comes alive and is made wonderfully memorable. I am unaware of anyone who has ever pounded out a draft of a musical, did no revisions of any kind, handed it over to a production team, and had it successfully staged exactly as is with no changes. I suppose it’s possible that someone has done so, but I’m betting no worthy musical has ever been brought to life in such a manner. These monsters usually take a lot of revisions before they wind up looking like there was nothing to it.
I am no fan of first drafts. First drafts are killers. Some people love writing first drafts, but the blank page (or screen) is bloody torture to me. I can’t wait to cage that first gnarly beast.
Rewriting is everything. I love to rewrite. It’s fun. To me, rewriting is where the heart of the art lies. It’s where I get to sculpt, shape, color, tighten, and make the words dance.
When I was a novice at the writing game, I used to think I had to arduously work on each section of a show until I got it “right,” whatever the hell that means (what is right to me can be so wrong to you, and vice versa). But after laboring endlessly on a bit or a scene or an act I always found that I had to rewrite it later anyway.
It took a lot of failed efforts on my part before I learned that, for me, it is best to get that first draft out as fast as I possibly can, and to spend my time laboring over the rewrite. Not that rewriting is easy. It isn’t. But I find it so much more pleasurable that cranking out that always ragged first throw. I later found out that I wasn’t alone in this. The great writer, Anne Lamott, in her wonderful book, Bird by Bird, calls them “Shitty First Drafts.” And they are.
So, if you know that you will invariably rewrite like mad, why sweat that which comes first? Purge out that first draft as fast as you can. Does that mean you should purposefully do a lousy job? No. You must give it your all. Just don’t beat yourself up over it. In fact, the energy that can be generated by knocking out a fast first draft sometimes will result in the most compelling work of all. In all cases, you must concentrate on making it as good as possible – not perfect (again, whatever that means). Just don’t dwell on the glory of your work until much later. Worry about making it great during rewrites – which you cannot possibly do until you have that miserable first draft in front of you. So, have at it. Get past that first draft in a hurry so you can get at the really good stuff sooner rather than later.