The Delete Key Kills the First Draft

second drafts

photo by: yoshiffle

In my last post, I talked about one of the most important steps you take as a writer: walking away between the first and second drafts so you an approach the rewrite as objectively as possible. Now, here are three guidelines (I hate to say rules) I live by when rewriting.

Your Enemy Is Now Your Friend

The delete key. I don’t use it in first drafts (that I don’t handwrite anyhow). It’s anathema to the process of first draft writing. It implies going back when the purpose of the first draft is to push forward. If I could disable it, I would.

But the second draft? That delete key will be your best friend. It’s like your little right-hand assassin, the guy you send out to do the dirty work of eliminating your bad words, phrases, sentences, scenes, sequences, and acts.

If it doesn’t work – delete it. Simple as that.

Subtext – not subtitles

Unless you’re David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin, your dialogue needs work. I know in my first drafts, my dialogue is a placeholder for showing, not telling. I look for places to work in counterpoint – in music, two melodic lines running opposite each other; in film, a dissonance between what’s being done and what’s being said. This is also where one of the key lessons of humanity comes into play: oftentimes, what people say and what people do are two different things. Wipe that bit of dirt off the nose. Or just break the nose.

Show Me an Experience

Oftentimes, I find my first drafts to be akin to a court transcript: a record of what’s going on in front of me. Throughout the rewrite process, I ask myself “am I letting the audience EXPERIENCE the story vs. WATCHING the story unfold?” There is a subtle but defining difference here: in the first draft, you are an observer, at arm’s length from the action (due to regurgitating it out of your head). In subsequent drafts, you and the audience become immersed in the stories, seeing themselves in the story and experiencing it along with the protagonist. Your rewrites should focus on this key difference. What elements of the film language can you incorporate to bring this out to maximum effect?

Next time, I’ll discuss taking your delete key from an assassin to a weapon of mass destruction. In the meantime, when do you return to your script between drafts? And when you do, what guidelines do you follow?

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   Bill Pace said on September 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Excellent advice! Steven Pressfield talks about this in his excellent, slim motivating book DO THE WORK (

“One rule for 1st full working drafts: get them done ASAP…
Don’t stop, don’t look down, don’t think…
The draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz.”

   Tyler Weaver said on September 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Hi Bill – many thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I’ll have to check out Pressfield’s book… that advice is fantastic!

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