Return to site

Sling ink for better changes

Here's a suggestion that might help some of you when you are considering making a change to something you've already written.

The temptation that faces each of us day after day is that when we are dissatisfied with a scene or even a paragraph, we have just drafted we try to fix it by tinkering with it. By that I mean we go back and reword sentences, revise, cut, rearrange phrases, etc.

The trick I learned a long time ago from a wonderful mentor of mine, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, is to do this instead:

Don't go back to the passage that needs fixing and start banging it into shape with a hammer. Instead, read it if you need to, and then write a whole new version -- from beginning to end. Don't try to make the first failed effort acceptable by body and fender work.

What's the difference? You'll find it when you compare a passage you are unsatisfied with that you have pounded into submission with one that you have rewritten completely from beginning to end that the latter has a much more consistent flow and often is more complete, coherent and clear. And you will soon find the second time you write something completely; it is almost always better than fixing up the first time effort.

Now, this suggestion can work almost anywhere in the process of writing a complete manuscript. But there does come a phase in the process of successive drafts where you will spend your time doing minor tweaking, wordsmithing, polishing, and checking for punctuation and spelling. By that point in the process you have pretty much decided what goes in each passage, paragraph, scene or chapter. And not much of that will move. So making small adjustments to a semifinal version is often more appropriate there.

Get in the habit of slinging ink. Instead of fixing a rough draft, write a new draft and watch what happens to the quality of that second effort.