Cut the Second Draft Paste

Here’s the next contribution in our series of guest posts. Screenwriter John Pace has the solution to a fresh, immeasurably better 2nd draft. There will be resistance but it only proves you’re in denial. Just follow John’s advice and do what you need to do.

When writing a second-draft screenplay it‘s simultaneously terrifying and comforting to remember that there’s always a better idea. The things you came-up with in your first draft may make you want to piss yourself with pride, but in most cases better ideas lie in waiting – finding them is the hard part, and it’s what makes writing the second draft often feel like you’re stuck in a dark sauna thick with the steamy breath of a thousand doubters.

But don’t throw-in the soggy towel just yet. To help you move forward in your writing and avoid the temptation of dragging your first draft into your second, I’ve devised a contraption to alert you each time you drop into the second draft cruise.

You’ll need some electrical wire; two small alligator clips; a 12 volt battery; and access your computer keyboard. Actually, instead of me writing instructions, how about you just rig-up a system based on the image below.

second-draft-anti-cutpaste-300x200

You’re done? Cool. Now each time you touch the shortcut for “copy” or “paste” you’ll complete an electrical circuit that will cause extreme pain in your nipples.

This electrical agony is designed to gently remind you to not rest on your first draft ideas. Cutting and pasting great chunks of your first draft into a new document is NOT re-writing. It’s laziness.

Guillermo Arriaga, the innovative Mexican writer of such films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel starts each new draft with a blank screen, re-writing his story from scratch, deploying different language to refine his writing to its essence. Now that’s pretty extreme (I believe he uses a 240 volt anti-copy/paste system), but based on his whippet-lean scripts it’s an approach that seems to work.

Sure, Arriaga’s technique makes things difficult, but difficulty is to be embraced in the pursuit of better ideas. It’s our responsibility as writers to mercilessly seek the best ideas we can, regardless of how much it hurts in the brain-thing. In that pursuit we need to muster the courage to kill our babies, not copy and paste them into another family.

I suspect lots of the fear about killing ideas has to do with some stupid notion of creativity being finite. What crap. If you’ve had one good idea then you’ll have another. As long as you believe that then you’ll always feel safe in taking your new drafts in a direction that means you’ll have to jettison an idea or ten that you love. So relax into the fact that there’ll be other ideas, and they’ll be better.

Of course, this approach applies to just about any creative endeavour. A photographer friend once told me the secret to his outstanding documentary photos was simply taking a buttload of shots and then choosing the best. A copywriter friend said that what he likes about the advertising industry versus the film industry is that it’s infused with an attitude that there’s always a better idea, while his friends in the film industry tend to get so hung-up on their big idea that they can’t see past it.

Even tinned food companies do it. You know… it’s the fish that John West rejects that makes them the best. When re-drafting, it’s the ideas you reject that make you the best. But that’s not to say that your other ideas are guano. They’re vital, in fact, to your ability to see better ideas. You need to stand on their shoulders to get a good look at the geography of your story. So see your first draft as a foothold rather than something to shoehorn into a story that has evolved beyond it.

I say all this so aggressively because I’m currently deep into a second draft and so perhaps I’m writing this to myself. It’s winter and the electrical wires are cold on my goose-pimpled areolas. I’ve been electrocuted several times. But with the help of my motivational torture device, I’m confident that I’m well on the way to a superior draft.    

If you’re not the handy type or you can’t concentrate with clamps on your tits, then you can forget about the anti cut/paste device. But, as you wade through the miasma of your second draft and find yourself tempted to dump forty first-draft pages into your script so you can feel good about your second draft progress, I implore you to remember that “Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V” is called a “shortcut” for a reason.

– John Pace

John Pace is me. I’m a screenwriter. You can follow my blatant self-promotion and ill-conceived ramblings on screenwriting at: http://www.howlingpictures.com/blog/ 


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  1. This seems like good advice. My second draft is different to my first. I would call it solid now. Before it was diarrhea. Still shit, however.

  2. Pingback: Make Your Movie: 10 Steps to Tackle the Big Bad Second Draft | ARCBLOG