The past few days I’ve been out of commission suffering from stomach flu. Due to this unexpected change in my health I’ve not been writing scenes and blogging about them. However, in that time when I wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t entirely quit writing. Instead of composing new scenes from writing prompts when I wasn’t feeling well I spent my most recent writing sessions finishing rewrites on a new play which I began writing last month.
In this blog, I set out to write about playwriting from the point of view of creating new scenes from writing prompts, but now that I’ve spent a few days away from that sort of writing to instead work on my new play rewrites I think it’s time to spend some time here on this blog discussing rewriting.
My very first playwriting teacher, back in my high school days, told us in class that playwriting is rewriting. To my classmates and I this was initially a somewhat alarming statement to hear from her. When we wrote our first plays many of us fell in love with them exactly as they were. They were first drafts.
I learned from that class that what she said about rewriting is true. While I do still enjoy the process of writing first drafts of plays, I have to admit that I actually enjoy the rewriting process more. When you write the first draft of a new play you are exploring who those characters are, what they want, and what stands in the way of them reaching their goals.
A first draft is a first meeting with your characters. That is when you learn about who they are and what they are like. Working through rewrites isn’t exciting in the same way that meeting new characters and discovering a new story to tell on the stage, but it does have its own adventures to be explored and enjoyed.
What I find exciting and fun about the rewriting process is that when I am in rewrites I can delve deeper into exploring the world of my play, and I can closely examine it and find ways to take a story I already know and prune away the extraneous parts that do not help tell the story, or if I don’t need to take away anything, I can add in new parts that will strengthen the story, and that will also more clearly represent who the characters are for the audience who will eventually watch the play. In rewrites I get to know my characters better than when I met them while writing the first draft.
I find that it’s helpful to wait a bit of time before I begin rewriting. Letting a new play sit for a while, without even reading it, is part of my rewriting process. When I spend some time away from a new play I can look at it again with fresh eyes when I finally sit down to rewrite. Oftentimes taking that time away from the play enables some of the changes which need to be implemented to jump out at me when I finally go back and reread a new play. In the time I take away from a new play after completing the first draft my subconscious is busy working on the play.
Rewriting can be addictive. So, these days I have to set deadlines for myself to complete rewrites and then to send the completed play out into the world so I won’t feel tempted to tinker with it in rewrites forever. New plays could be rewritten endlessly, but at some point you have to get out of the way and let your plays proceed to the next step in the process and allow other theatre artists to add their input on your new plays.
So, enjoy writing your first drafts. And do your best to get your play into its best shape in rewrites, but eventually, let your new play go. When you do you the production process awaits and that is just as exciting a the writing process, usually far more so!