So you’re ready to plunge into your first draft. You’ve done your research and extensive character and other backstory exploratory work and have come up with a plot outline that you think has real shape and punch–a structure that delivers. All you’re lacking is the script itself and you’re eager to start turning out actual pages.
My one caution as you start into your first draft is to KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! Every writer naturally feels the urge to share work as it’s being written. Or at least talk about the discoveries and progress being made as work proceeds on the draft. We’re in this business because we want to communicate ideas to others, right? However, this is not the time for that. In fact, it is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Resist the urge. Do not, under any circumstances, show your work or talk about it to anyone while you’re working on your first draft. Keep it totally to yourself. This is your private world, your virgin soil. It should be written as a personal and solo experience.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman once told me, “Plays are not written by committee. They are written by single voices. They are products of a single vision.”
At this phase in the writing process your job is to protect this private world from all outside influence, whether it’s a play, screenplay, or teleplay. Think of it as contamination, even if it comes from a trusted friend. Nothing can destroy a first draft faster than to show pages to well-meaning people in your life. They’ll want to help you, even feel obligated to give you feedback. As Norman added, “People love to get in and tell you what to do. Isn’t that true in life and of writing? Everybody knows what you ought to do.”
And, of course, the moment someone gives you input, you won’t be able to get it out of your head, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s contamination either way.
Resisting this urge to share your first draft-in-the-making can pay huge dividends by building an increasingly stronger and more intimate connection between you and your material. What’s happening in the developing script becomes yours and your characters’ own secret and your unique source of strength. This, in turn, produces an energy which helps propel you through to the end. Even when you’re stuck on something and go through a few days or even weeks of feeling lost, the experience remains a private one, shared only between you and the people inside the play.
The time will come soon enough when it’s necessary and useful to share your script with others and hear what they have to say. Now, however, it’s just as critical that you don’t.
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