Sunday, September 19, 2010
The Pain and Terror of Rewrites
You've poured out the fruits of an overheated imagination into your ravenous hard drive. Clever, pants-splittingly funny, insightful. Some scenes you read over and over again, just to make yourself feel good. And you do. You feel great. Rights of Passage is going to be a smash! What a unique voice, you whisper to yourself. What bravery, to tread where few writers ever go. Your ego swells and pulsates in its own quiet and modest way. There's nothing quite like tackling a difficult, complex topic and nailing it. Nailing it! And then the reviews come back--self indulgent, unfocused, too long. A few giggles here and there, but no pants are split, no urine is spilled. And worst of all? Some of that negative feedback comes from the writers. Go figure!
So you spend a couple of weeks (make that a month) in denial. Cursing the naysayers, bitch-slapping them in your mind. And through it all, a scene from the film Sunset Boulevard hovers over the proceedings. It's the one where William Holden's character has begun helping the Gloria Swanson character rewrite her screenplay of Salome which is a tangled mess of handwritten manuscripts tied with twine. In a very reasonable and professional manner he recommends some drastic but much needed cuts. Standing over the toiling scribe, Gloria pauses for a moment then barks her line: "Put it back!" Then stalks off across the polished floors of her cavernous living room.
Gloria never did make friends with the editing process and we all know how she ended up. Fortunately these writers have seen the light. But it's a pale thing that doesn't do much to illuminate the way forward. At least not yet. Right now all that is staring us in the face is a void with a few faint glimmers of clarity twinkling on the horizon.
Our only hope, at this point, is that one or the other of us don't wind up face down at the bottom of a Hollywood swimming pool clutching an unfinished manuscript.