questionmarkDo you ever get sick of working with the same script that you are loathe to even look at it anymore? If so how do you get a tenth wind to reset your perspective?

I’ve gone through six drafts and am still incorporating changes from someone’s notes. This script was my world for nine months and I’d like nothing better than to move on to my next project full-time, but I feel like Pacino in Godfather III.

Any suggestions?

— John
Kansas City

Here’s the thing: writing sucks. It’s difficult on a good day, and intolerable on most others. That’s why I’ll gladly answer your question rather than spend these 20 minutes of staring at the scene I ought to be writing.

First drafts are hard, but at least they’re exciting and new. Second drafts have the advantage of problem-solving, and feel like forward progress. Every draft after that is a slog. And I mean slog in the most onomatopoetic sense: boots sinking in mud to your ankles, a thick slurp with each exhausting footstep. Sure, you want the draft to be good, but you mostly just want it to be done.

When you’re getting paid for it, you can sometimes muscle through a rewrite by calculating how much you’re getting paid per page. Even imaginary income works for this. While I’m annoyed by the lottery mentality with which a lot of aspiring screenwriters approach the craft (spec sale as sweepstakes), let’s face it: your script isn’t worth anything until it’s finished.

If you’ve promised a new draft to someone whose opinion you value, picturing his or her face can be a motivation. Better yet, promise exactly when you’ll deliver it. Deadlines help, as do consequences.

Consider rewards. For every three pages you finish, you get to watch a Dollhouse on the DVR.

Beyond that, I can offer a few suggestions that are not of the carrot-or-stick variety:

  • Challenge yourself to remove one seemingly important scene. Imagine what would happen if the actor you needed died during production, and that scene never got shot. Could you work around it? Could you make the movie better for its absence?

  • Push yourself to use better words. Particularly in the back half of a script, there’s a tendency to get a bit sloppy and repetitive. Make that scene description on page 98 as sharp as it was on page 13. Here’s a test: Are you using “there are?” If so, you could do better.

  • Imagine a secondary plot that we’re not seeing. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, perhaps there’s an offscreen adventure taking place that a reader will never see. Only you as the writer will know it’s there. Dangerous? Sure. But on your fifth draft, a little danger may be what you need.

Will you reach a point at which it’s simply impossible (or self-defeating) to keep rewriting? Yes. But don’t confuse the standard difficulties of writing with true burnout. Here’s the difference: When you’re burned out, you simply don’t care. You’ll make a scene worse just to get it done. That’s when you need to quit and write something else.