#25: Re-Write Part I - You've Finished! Now the Real Work Begins
Welcome back to Creating Comics! I'm in a good mood right now. Why? Well, I wrote a script today. I finally sat down and cranked out the initial eight pages to a new comic book series I'm really excited about (well, hell, I'm excited about them all.) But after thinking about the idea for many months, doing my research, jotting my ideas down, and talking with the artist I'm going to work, I finally sat my butt down and wrote the script.
That's the good news. The bad news? It's not very good.
But I'm not worried. Why? Because there's plenty of good in there, it's just really rough. The positive is that by writing that first draft, I uncovered holes I need to fill, characters I need to flesh out, problems I need to solve, and additional research I need to do. And those are all good things to figure out.
Today I'm going to start a multi-week series on re-writing and share some tips for how to tackle the real work of becoming a writer.
Now, let's say you've finished a first draft, be it for a short story, a single issue, or a full-graphic novel. Whenever you finish a first draft of pretty much anything you write more substantial than a Twitter post (follow me!) or a birthday card, you should do two things:
1. Acknowledge the accomplishment of finishing that first draft. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. Kudos! Remember 95% of people out there with ideas for stories never make it this far. Far more people think about doing things than actually do them. But not you. You sat your keaster down and wrote that first draft. So go ahead. Feel good about it. You're doing it!
2. And after you're done applauding yourself, recognize that regardless of how good you feel about your writing, it still needs work.
Ernest Hemingway once famously quipped, "The first draft of anything is shit." Now, if Hemingway recognized this in HIS writing, perhaps we too should not be so hasty to call a piece of work done as soon as we type the words "The End."
Screenwriting expert Robert McKee says the quality writer "wants to destroy his work. Taste and experience tell him that 90 percent of everything he writes, regardless of his genius, is mediocre at best. In his patient search for quality, he must create far more material than he can use, then destroy it." Sounds harsh. Sounds like a lot of work. Well, yeah, it kind of is. But you've made it this far. Often times the difference between a mediocre piece of writing and something great is simply more time and effort put into it.
But where do you start?
First, you need some distance. If you've just finished a work of any reasonable length, you're probably going to be too close to it to view it objectively. So back off for a bit. You need to separate yourself from your writing in order to come back at it with fresh eyes. The length of the work and the amount of time you've put into it should determine how long you stay away. A 10-22 page comic script? Put it down for a day or two and try not to think about it. A longer work like a screenplay, graphic novel script, or a novel. You need to put that puppy down for at least a week. When I was writing the Over screenplay, I was getting up a 5:30-6 am every morning and writing for a few hours and then for a few hours again at night. I cranked out the first 93 page draft in about two weeks of writing fury. By the time I finished and proofread, I was WAY too close to the script to view it objectively. So, I let it be for two entire weeks, before getting back into it.
Distance does not equal downtime. Okay, you're away from your script. Party time? Nope, sorry. You're a writer now! Writers write. Sure, crack a beer or take a night off to celebrate, but needing distance is not an excuse to stop writing or stop working on your craft. Here are three suggestions for things you can do to be productive in your time away from your first draft.
- Work on the next project. That first draft you just finished isn't your only story idea is it? For most creative people, I assume the answer is no. This is one of the benefits of having multiple projects in various stages of development going at once. When you need time away from one, you have something else to work on. As soon as I finished the first draft of Over, I took a "break" by plotting out the full story for "Tears of the Dragon." I think it helped that Tears and Over were entirely different genres. It really felt like a vacation to write. I was also able to give more energy and effort to some of my other comic projects that had taken a back seat while I poured everything I had into the screenplay.
- Read a book on craft. If you've just written a novel, screenplay, or comic script, now is the best time to pick up and read a book on the craft of writing and storytelling. After you've written something is much better than before. About six years ago, I picked up a copy of The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier. This is a great reference. Read it cover to cover as soon as I got it. And immediately after...I wrote nothing. Nope, despite being a great reference and having mostly everything I'd ever need to know to write a screenplay, it did not inspire me to write one. In fact, it probably intimidated me. I just wasn't ready.
This likely would have been the case had I picked up McKee's Story prior to writing my screenplay. I either wouldn't have gotten through it (boring, inaccessible) or it would have depressed me (How am I ever going to write something that satisfies all of his criteria for a good script?)
However, I came to McKee immediately AFTER writing the first draft of my screenplay. Because of this, as I read the book, I viewed everything he had to say through the prism of my screenplay. As a result, I read it cover to cover in a few days and was fired up for my rewrite afterwards.
- Provide feedback for other writers. This is one of the best ways to develop your critical eye. After finishing a work, you'll gain a lot by providing feedback to other writers. In fact, this is the whole concept behind the exceptional site TriggerStreet (highly recommended site for giving and getting feedback on your creative works.) When you read other's work, you'll have no attachment to the material, which allows total objectivity. But as you're offering critique, you may find that some of the mistakes that writer has made are similar to the mistakes you make. By seeing the flaws in another's writing or seeing what they do that works, it can help illuminate a direction forward for your re-write that you might not have seen otherwise.
After finishing the first draft of Over, I read and critiqued 14 feature-length screenplays written by other aspiring writers. Some were pretty good, others not so much. But every single one helped me hone my editorial chops, which in turn helped me rewrite my script.
Alright, so there are a few ideas for you for how to approach finishing that first draft. Again, this is what I do and what works for me. Give it a shot, or feel free to share what works for you. Next week, I'll continue to discuss the topic of re-writing, and more specifically tackle the subject of asking for and receiving feedback. See you next week!
NEXT: The Re-Write - Part II
Tyler James is a comics creator residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He writes and draws Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also writes Tears of the Dragon, an epic fantasy webcomic. His work has been featured at Zuda Comics, and includes Interrogation Control Element, a political action thriller, and Super Seed, the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic. When not making comics, Tyler works as a game designer and content producer for a software company.
1: Big Goals
3: The Great Idea
4: Research Part I
5: Research Part II
6: The Killer Pitch Part I - The High Concept
7: The Killer Pitch Part II - The Synopsis
8: Pay Your Artists
9: Zuda Comics- A Tale of Five Submissions
10: Creating Great Characters Part I (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
11: Creating Great Characters Part II (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
12: Structurally Sound- The Beginning
13: Your Reputation
14: Structurally Sound- The Middle
15: Structurally Sound - The End
16: Your First Con
17: Beat It
18: Memorable Scenes
20: Comics Dialogue - Part I
21: Comics Dialogue - Part II
22: Baltimore Comic Con - Part I
23: Baltimore Comic Con - Part II
24: Is It Worth It?
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