5 Things You Forgot About Rough Drafts

Working screenwriters tend to have several screenplays in the pipeline at once, all at different levels of completion. This way, they can bounce around between all the stages of the writing process without getting fatigued, and always have an answer for the dreaded question, ‘what else do you got?’ 

But balancing a pipeline of different projects — and actually completing them — takes time. When you start off, chances are you’ll just focus on one screenplay at a time. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the messiness that is the rough draft.

Here are five things you forgot about rough drafts:

  1. They often don’t go as planned. Characters and dramatic subplots hijack the story. You come up with a great plot twist that invalidates half of the story. Things happen in this stage that often derail the story — but some of these changes are for the best.
  2. Editing while you write is a terrible idea. Trust me on this when I say that editing and writing are separate processes in your brain. So don’t try to combine them and slash your processing power in half! Focus. One step at a time. You can’t edit a blank page.
  3. If you don’t have an outline, you’re increasing the gap between first and final draft. Outlines help provide roadmaps that enforce a loose structure that your story can abide by. Even if you deviate from your initial plan, you can always return to the outline. Best of all, you know how the story is going to end, so you can plant hints and delicious bits of foreshadowing in the mix. Who doesn’t love foreshadowing? (Answer: no one. It’s a beautiful technique when done right.)
  4. You will hate it at one point. I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t encountered the dreaded ‘all is lost’ moment during some or all of their rough drafts. The trajectory of a screenplay differs from writer to writer, but generally the high of the idea wears off around page 50, and your characters wander aimlessly across the page until you can rekindle your motivation. By acknowledging that this happens, you can prepare yourself for the inevitable drop that occurs in the vast wilderness of act two.
  5. Now is the time to write it. I’m all for pre-writing. I think the preparation stage is critical to the success of a project. However, if you use the pre-writing stage as an excuse to procrastinate, saying that you’re not ready to write your screenplay yet after months of preparation and little progress, it’s time to jump in. You may not be ready. But if you lose your initial enthusiasm for the project by saying you’ll write it ‘later,’ you’ll never finish. You have to capture your motivation before it escapes you, and the balance between too much pre-writing and not enough is a precarious one. Pre-write until you’ve got a solid foundation, and then jump in with both feet.

I love rough drafts. I think they’re the purest form within the writing process. You’re filling the blank page with this new idea, this new synthesis of ideas and details and characters that surround you in real life. You’ve changed as a person from your last screenplay, and it reflects in the rough draft. Sure, you’ve got a long way to go, but there’s something sentimental about starting a new journey.

Good luck, and get writing!