Tag Archives: redrafting

Pain and truth and learning…. the playwright’s progress…

So what really goes on when you’re writing a play? So often I see narratives that miss out on the difficult bits – those moments where, in my experience at least, the learning happens. In these sanitised versions the play somehow falls, fully formed, onto the page and thence into the mouths of actors in the rehearsal room… Where’s the sweat, the not-knowing, the doubts, the sudden moments of clarity and certainty? Creativity comes from problem solving. I move on as a writer when I’ve struggled with something – and if not learnt something new, have found the strength to let something go.

And so onto the blogs by dramaturg and playwright David Lane. I featured some of his earlier blogs on first idea to final draft here. David emailed me again today with an update on his ACE-funded writing process public engagement blogs. ‘I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences more widely,’ he wrote, ‘particularly the painful and truthful ones!’ Which are the rare ones – and the ones I like to read, to absorb, recognise, and hopefully learn from.

So with David’s permission, I share them with you….. Painful and truthful blogs on the writing process…..













Writing is all about rewriting – but one thing at a time….



I was recently teaching a writing workshop in India, when one of the participants asked me about revising a draft. ‘Writing is all about re-writing,’ I said with great emphasis, ‘but only concentrate on one thing at a time.’  It may seem obvious, gnomic even, but it is a piece of advice so often overlooked. When revising work, focus on one thing at a time. The conversation that followed prompted me to go back, fillet and revise an earlier piece on this very subject.

Revising and redrafting a script can be a chaotic and ramshackle activity. After finally stumbling through to the end of an early draft, hopefully realising what the play or story is actually about (which may not be what we thought it was about when we set out…) it’s time to revisit and refine.

So often in my early experience and more recently, with those I dramaturg or mentor, revising can end up resembling the carnage of a kitten caught up in a ball of wool. It is not cute, pleasant, or the stuff of chocolate box covers, despite its many cliches. The combination of tender inexpert claws and fragmenting strands of wool is choking and potentially deadly. Likewise for the enthusiastic or inexperienced playwright whose imagined elegant and ordered combing through of the various strands of a script can result instead in a cat’s cradle of knots, unintentional dread-heads and a confused and despairing writer.

It’s easily done. I  begin reading a first draft and see some improvements I could make in the flow of dialogue between the characters, so mid-read I begin the revision, only to get distracted by the layout, which surely should be indented and double-spaced? (yes please). So I start doing that, but wait, surely that’s a saggy bit there in the middle and the stakes aren’t nearly high enough? So if I just reintroduce the character I cut halfway through the first draft and have her explain – but no, wouldn’t that just make her a cipher? And that’d be telling, not showing – which seems to be what’s happening in that section there – so maybe, maybe if I changed his motivation in that beat and therefore introduced rising action there, I could…. and there I am, hopelessly lost and demented, script dismantled about me, trussed up in my narrative threads like a turkey on Christmas morning.

We have to be ordered in our approach.

Try and work through the full draft, focusing on only one thing at a time. One read-through you may be looking at the journey of each individual character – and don’t try to do several in one reading to save time, as you won’t. Focus and comb through that strand, separating it from other considerations, and really pay attention. Then another read-through may be taking the dramatic temperature of the whole – the presence of tension or pace or rising action. Another read may be looking at effective dialogue – and so on.

It seems simple and obvious advice, yet somehow most of us manage not to absorb it. We try to be economical with time, but end up instead squandering it, giving ourselves headaches and small crises of confidence.

In redrafting, be specific and focus on only one thing at a time.

Be patient and calm.

Above all else, enjoy.

Your inner kitten will thank you for it.

LeanerFasterStronger: towards the rehearsal draft OR how to revise a script






Andrew’s rough sketch of the proposed design for LeanerFasterStronger at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, May 2012.

It is nine weeks before rehearsals begin for LeanerFasterStronger, my commission from Chol Theatre to be produced in Sheffield in the Spring. The feedback document I had squirrelled away until The Echo Chamber opened has now been scrutinised, digested, and discussed at length with Susan Burns of Chol and Andrew Loretto of Sheffield Theatres. Deadline firmly in mind, I’m now setting off to redraft the script.

I’m often asked how I rewrite a script. Strangely, this is something I have never come across in the public domain, nor heard discussed in detail at literary festivals and similar events. What follows is my own personal process. It may be useful for others to know, but it certainly isn’t prescriptive, nor can I assume something I have developed over the years might work for other writers. I think the trick is in finding what works for you. What follows is what works for me.

Few, I think, would believe my apparent aimless meandering and vacant staring into space in the days following feedback could be classified as work. But it isn’t all fun. I feel immensely fortunate to write full time, and this, combined with my hardcore work ethic (thank you, immigrant parents), makes the more reflective, apparently passive part of the process pretty challenging.

What I have learned over the years (but I keep forgetting, so have to keep reminding myself) is: it is important to give time to dream, to absorb, to be apparently passive and let the script and related ideas float comfortably somewhere in my un/subconscious. I find if I’m relaxed enough, I start dreaming the script, especially in that liminal place, when not fully asleep, but not yet awake. This dream state allows me to run the scenes on the movie screen of my mind, and I often wake and go straight to my desk without washing or dressing, knowing immediately what needs to be addressed.

Thinking about this, I assume it’s a form of lucid dreaming I have taught myself over the years. I find it works with short stories and plays, as I can hold these in their entirety in my mind and run through from beginning to end, moment by moment. Anything longer, like a novel, is too big to hold in my mind’s eye.

Before I start re-writing and whilst I’m in that mulling everything over phase, I read extensively. Once I’m actually writing, I read non-fiction or journals so that there isn’t an unintentional influence, but before I begin work I like to immerse myself in the medium and remind myself of the the possibilities of the form. This is also important as I work across several forms. Reading as much as I can for several days firmly roots me in the necessary medium and style, be that radio drama, fiction, academic writing, or live performance.

To that end, I have recently acquired a stable of plays, which I will devour over the weekend. The breadth is broad. The intention is not to read work close to my own subject matter and aesthetic, but to remind myself of a wide range of dramaturgies and theatre styles. Here is my weekend reading:

A Map of the World.          David Hare.

The Water Station.            Ota Shogo.

Butterfly Kiss.                      Phyllis Nagy.

13.                                              Mike Bartlett.

Far Away.                            Caryl Churchill.

Red Sky.                                  Bryony Lavery.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma.  David Edgar.

A Year and a Day.             Christina Reid.

Disco Pigs.                           Enda Walsh.

Burn and Rosalind.           Deborah Gearing.

Realism.                               Anthony Neilson.

More on this process follows after the weekend, when I will start identifying sections of the play requiring modification and strengthening – and deciding what actions will best get the required results.

(c) Kaite O’Reilly 17/2/12