I don’t enjoy
doing rewrites, to be honest. This is because the way I write is to do a
lot of thinking and note-taking (and sometimes research) beforehand and
then write the whole thing in a relatively short burst of energy.
Starting to write is getting into the right place to do it and then
putting my head down and tunnelling.
That makes it sound much more splurgy
than it is, because increasingly I will have worked out the skeleton of
the plot, and the key moments and turns of the play are in place. But
nonetheless, I do write in a long gasp; while I’m in that breath I can
tinker and amend and restart and rethink, but once it’s written, it’s
written and it’s very hard to change. Sometimes this is just because the
rhythm derives from the pressure of producing the words sequentially.
But also it’s just the thought, the thought emerging.
Now that I structure much more
carefully, I can do structural adjustments ‘cold’, though that’s not
actually rewriting. To then actually rewrite I just have to get into the
right place and tunnel in the new direction; rarely can I solve the
problem of a scene by tinkering. I find actually that I can’t even do
the rewrite on the original text; I have to write the new scene in a new
file and then paste it into the draft.
This is in my mind because I’ve just been rewriting Chekhov in Hell. I
did a rewrite in August and I’ve just done another now. The August
rewrite was worse in some ways than what came before. This new one is
much, much better. This has been a pattern in the past; first rewrite
makes it worse, second rewrite sorts it out. I think this happened with Static and in part with Beachy Head. Why is that?
I think it’s because I hope that the
original draft is fine and that I just need to tinker. So I tinker,
which solves the problems but leaves the problems in there too.
Basically, I’ve just added new material but the play’s become baggy.
Then, once it’s been seen by people (the director, say), I feel able to
slash and burn. This is a pattern with me; I find it very hard to
rewrite unless the draft’s been somehow seen: logged, noted and admired
(or not). Then I can move on. At that point - because really I’m writing
stuff from scratch - I start enjoying it again, because it’s the
pleasure of creating, which is different from the thin pleasure of
I am very pleased with the new draft of Chekhov in Hell, I must say, and greatly enjoyed writing it. There’s an entirely new character - Claire, a police community support officer - who speaks in ‘victim support’ patter but has an awfully good heart. Also, I like having written a play in which a character pulls out an enormous handgun and yells ‘GET DOWN ON THE MUTHAFUCKING GROUND MUTHAFUCKAS’. Who wouldn’t be proud?