The Unbearable Heaviness of Editing
This is the 9th blog post in my screenwriting series, it all started here
I printed out the screenplay yesterday. I took a picture and texted it to my sister and a couple of friends. It felt pretty cool. Scary – but cool. They all asked to read it. I told them I needed time. I wasn’t ready for feedback yet.
As a writer, I’ve come to know my own quirky, creative process and the incredible vulnerability I feel about my craft. I’ve had to get over myself and my insecurities. But it’s still a process.
I remember sending my first book proposal and some sample chapters to a “real” NY editor for the first time. When she called and said, “You can write, Sandy”, the insecure seven year old inside of me jumped for joy. I wonder if she knew how badly I needed to hear those words.
Even though my writing had been published in numerous local publications and several online magazines, it didn’t feel like I was a real writer until I sold my first book to a real publisher who paid me a real advance.
One of the things I’ve come to know about myself is that there is a process I need to go through with creative things. At first, the project is like a newborn baby and I simply can’t bear to have anyone edit or criticize it. During that time, I don’t share it with anyone. I may mention what I’m working on and talk about certain inspirations and ideas, but I know I’m not ready for any feedback. I need to keep it close to my heart and protect it…or protect me. I guess I’m protecting that soft, mushy, vulnerable part of myself. If someone were to inadvertently show up and stomp all over it, the project might die during this phase. It’s still extremely fragile. Eventually I will get to a place where it won’t matter what others say about my work and even harsh criticism won’t deter me from my goal, but in the beginning of something new, I need to keep it close and nurture it (and myself) very carefully.
My creative process looks something like this:
- keep creative project close, don’t share with anyone, don’t say it out loud.
- start to share the tiniest bit of the thought with my inner circle of trusted souls, get comfortable talking about it.
- work on creative project in private, edit, edit, edit.
- share creative project with my husband (who has been trained over 26 years how to give me feedback without crushing my soul) then some edit more.
- share creative project with close friends and trusted colleagues, more editing.
- share creative project with people in the industry that can give constructive feedback and edit even more.
As stated above, I’ve trained my husband, over our 26 years together, how to give me feedback. After all of this time, I’ve learned how to express exactly what I need when I need it. This knowledge has come from too many painful experiences when I would innocently and open-endedly ask, “What do you think?” about a new idea or project. The truth is, I didn’t really want to hear what he thought unless he planned on telling me how amazing and brilliant I was. I was not ready for a critique or suggestions or editing of any kind.
My fragile ego would shut down at the first innocent suggestion and the project would be left to die. My overly sensitive soul would only hear the things I did wrong. Then my Inner Critic (remember her?) would tell me “Why bother?” “You suck.”
I couldn’t get perspective.
I didn’t have any confidence in my craft.
I now have confidence in my writing abilities. However, writing screenplays is very different from writing a non-fiction book, snappy magazine articles or a blog. I don’t have any perspective about whether or not I “can do this” yet. Therefore, I know I need to tread carefully in these coming days and make sure that I am very clear about whether or not I am open to feedback.
I know that my husband will be gentle with me, but I tell him anyway. “Okay, I’m ready for you to read this thing. It’s a very, very, very rough first draft. It’s very important that you are gentle in your feedback. I do want to know if it really sucks and if it’s really boring, but you must find a way to tell me very gently.”
He agrees and I hand over my newborn baby screenplay with nervousness and trepidation.
I was surprised at how nervous I felt while Rich was reading it. I found myself pacing around the house, trying to stay out of the room where he was reading. I didn’t want to know how good (or how badly) it was going. I just wanted to see his face when he was finished.
Rich walks into the room after a couple of hours, screenplay in hand, and says nonchalantly; “I’m hungry, going to take a break. It’s good. I’ve made a few notes. I’m only on page 19.”
Page 19????!!!! Really??? Page 19???! What took so long?? And now you’re going to take a break? Are you friggin’ kidding me? This is the last 10 years of my life, painstakingly arranged into detailed descriptions and captivating dialog spoken by well-crafted, multi-layered characters and you’re going to take a break after 19 pages????!!!!!
Well, that’s what I was thinking. What I actually said aloud was; “You’re only on page 19, huh?” And I think I forced a little smile or smirk. It was absolutely awful.
Rich explained that he was going through it very slowly and carefully and really trying to give me good notes.
Rich finally finishes reading my screenplay around 9pm.
He tells me it is not the shittiest screenplay in the history of the Universe.
But he’s never read any other screenplay. So what does he know? Answer = Nothing.
I am very happy that he didn’t hate it. And he gave me some really good notes. There is one major piece of my story that’s missing. I kind of knew that. I wasn’t sure until we talked about it where or how exactly I was going to tell that part of the story. So now I have a better idea of where to go. I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a lot already.
Technically, the first draft was printed out yesterday. On Day 19. But I really want to fill in these plot holes before I leave for Sundance. It might mean putting in some extra time this weekend, but I’m excited about it. I am inspired by Rich’s interest in my screenplay and feeling more and more confident about my screenwriting abilities.
In fact, I cannot wait to get back at it. That’s encouraging, isn’t it? It’s been a long time since I felt this inspired by a writing project. I’m still nervous about whether anyone who actually reads screenplays for a living would have any interest in this at all, but now is not the time to think about that.
Now it is time to begin editing and make it better. First draft is done. First person (albeit my dear husband) has read it and didn’t hate it. These are all good first steps.
Next stop Sundance. With one newly finished first screenplay ever. Whoo hoo!
NEXT: It’s Never Too Late to Try Your Hardest- Click here*