How I Rewrite
By Jacob Krueger
I’ve recently received many questions about rewriting—when is the best time to rewrite? How should you approach a rewrite? What should you think about when rewriting? So for this week’s article, I thought I’d share a little bit about my own rewriting process.
Someone once asked Pablo Picasso about revising the rough drafts of his paintings. Picasso responded (paraphrased): “No no, you don’t understand, I’m just trying to get something authentic and spontaneous on the canvas. Once I’ve captured something that’s spontaneous and authentic, I would be terrified to change it. I would rather just start a new canvas starting with whatever I learned from that spontaneous, authentic thing and just paint it again!”
So this is how I rewrite. Just as I write from the blank page, I also like to rewrite from the blank page.
Rewriting from the blank page reminds me that my editing brain is not my writing brain. It reminds me I’m going to go through multiple drafts of any project, writing in that childlike way, with that childlike part of my brain.
Now look, I use my editing brain. My editing brain is like a parent to my childlike creative brain. You don’t want to see a kid that grew up without a parent. It’s rough. Some kids make amazing things of themselves without a parent, but they have a much harder time of it. You want to be a good parent to your writing brain, and that means you’re putting the work in.
When I read something that my creative brain wrote, I’m going to use my editing brain to write down everything that I think is beautiful, I’m going to read and reread, take notes, move things around, I’m going to edit as much as I need to.
And I’m going to throw it out and rewrite the darn thing so I can be spontaneous and authentic as I write.
Is this the only way to rewrite? Not at all. As we discuss in my Write Your Screenplay classes, rewriting is just a tool we use for improving a specific aspect of a screenplay, and there are various approaches that are useful at different phases of the process. But rewriting from the blank page is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, because it keeps you from being attached to the brilliant things you’ve written that are not working in your screenplay.
In my own process, there are generally two exceptions to this rule for which I take a different approach.
Sometimes I’m pretty much done and just need a couple of copy-edit type things, in which case there’s no reason to rewrite the whole thing. In that case what I do is print it out and then I retype it. But even then I make sure to retype it. You know why? Because retyping it forces me to make all those choices again.
In other words: If I don’t feel like it’s worth typing, if I think this is boring, then it probably doesn’t belong in the script. I have to physically make all those choices again to decide if they’re actually worth it.
Also each time you type your script, it burns it into your brain. It helps you really remember it. If you’ve ever been away from a script for a long time and you want to do a rewrite just retyping it will help you remember.
There are also times when I’ve revised something so much that I just can’t bear to go to the blank page again. It’s just too much.
So when I simply cannot emotionally do it, then that’s another time I’ll retype it.
But I don’t copy and paste. Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V do not exist in my universe, because they always screw me up.
You can’t feel the flow of your writing when you’re copying and pasting. What happens is instead of really reading what you’ve written, you end up skimming, and you can’t remember if you did this before or if you’re doing this now.
With any rewrite, capturing that flow again is really where it’s at.
So I’d encourage you, as you pursue your own writing, and your own rewrites, to use your editing brain to make your notes, but your writing brain to execute them, focusing on finding that balance between the editing and creative parts of your brain, in order to get your most spontaneous and effective work on the page in every draft.
If you’d like to learn more about achieving that balance between the art and craft of writing at each phase of the process, I invite you to check out my 4 Week Write Your Screenplay workshop in NYC and Online.