“The catch is, you not only must be willing to rewrite, but you must be able to rewrite. Some writers freeze at the mention of a new sentence, word, or comma. They feel they have worked on a play or even a scene so often, there’s nothing more they can say about it. This happened to me once on a play I was doing with Mike Nichols. I was stuck and stuck badly. Mike said, calmly, as usual, ‘Stop trying to fix what you have. Throw it out of your mind. It doesn’t exist anymore. Now go back and write it.’ When I did, I felt liberated from the obligation to fix something that wasn’t working. Now I could create something that didn’t have a negative history.
“In attacking Come Blow Your Horn again for what now seemed to be the zillionth rewrite, I felt fresh, renewed and invigorated. The pages that didn’t work in New Hope were now retired to a wastebasket on Long Island and replaced with entirely new words and ideas. Gone were the interminable expository phone calls, now replaced with scenes that dramatized events instead of declaring them. The play started to come alive for me for the first time.”
Wow, I needed that! By Kismet, I happened to be inspired to pick up Neil Simon’s memoir, Rewrites, which resides on a shelf near my favorite chair. When I pulled out the book and randomly found this passage, I knew I had to share it because, like me, some of you may be struggling with a part of your story that’s not working. It’s rough, isn’t it?
Right now, I’m revising the opening of my story. Not for the zillionth time like our boy Neil, but it sure feels like it! I’m very attached to some elements of it, but somehow it isn’t quite jelling yet. I’m not sure I’m ready to boldly toss it all out, but maybe I’ll need to arrive at that point to get it right. If so, I hope I have the courage that Neil showed in revamping his play. Here’s what struck me about Neil’s story:
There’s always something new to say: We may not feel it, but fresh words are waiting.
Sometimes dramatic action is needed. Pushing around the same words won’t work.
It is possible to let go of writing you’re really attached to and start with a clean page.
It’s liberating to dump something that isn’t working: to let go of its “negative history.”
When you stop fixing what isn’t working, you create a vacuum—a space for fresh ideas.
When you’re finally on the right track, you’ll know it – your story will come alive.
You can take rewriting to a whole new level – reinvent instead of simply revamp.
There’s always a way to improve your story – to make it sing and dance on the page.
I’m going to keep Neil’s advice in my back pocket – and if my current opening doesn’t come together in its curren tform, I’m going to see if I can do what Neil did – wipe it off the page and start again. How about you? Have you ever taken this dramatic step and found it worked for you? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Write on!