#11 First Read

I’m a writer, and a teacher of writing. I firmly believe the old chestnut – writing is rewriting. Old doesn’t mean outdated, and this one is just as current as they come. Our first drafts are not the thing; the thing is that beginning draft crafted and reworked into something worthwhile.

I tell my students that the first draft they turn in to a producer, or a reader, or even your writer’s group should never actually be a “first” draft. You write several drafts, getting it from the one you first vomited onto the page to one that is readable – then you label it “first draft” and send it on. We all agree to the pretense.

Sending it on is a difficult process. Every writer lives under two delusions: the first is that everything they write is revolutionary, perfect, awe-inspiring. The second delusion, equally as strong, is that everything we write is pure drivel, utter trash, absolute nonsense.

Sending off our writing is setting up the proof that one of those voices is right – and it almost always seems to be the latter.

Which is why it is critical to find your critics – those that look at your script with the dual traits of honesty and love. If your early readers don’t love you, it is easy to see the joy of the work destroyed. I once quit a writer’s group because there seemed to be too much joy in tearing down one another’s work – and by extension, one another.

Honesty is also needed, however. A spoonful of sugar is good to help the medicine go down, but without the medicine, the spoonful is really just setting one up for weight gain. Critique without a critical eye is short term nice, long term damaging. I once quit a writer’s group because they had a rule: only positive things can be said about each other’s work.

She is my first reader for much of what I write; at least the stuff I write for me, the stuff that comes straight from my heart. (Present essays excluded, of course.) I don’t give her my vomit draft, I rework it first. After all, I want to impress her.

I admit that when she doesn’t like it, or isn’t impressed, or asks, “Is this your vomit draft?” the sting is pretty strong. I don’t always take it well. Sometimes I mope. Or I look at want ads for jobs in retail or the fast-food industry.

Yet I wouldn’t trade this first reader for any other. Face it, she’s good. She’s an actress and sees scripts from the inside out in ways that I miss. And she’s experienced, she knows story from well more than her 10,000 hours of mastery – as an artist, as an audience, as an accomplice to so many other storytellers.

And she loves me, and loves my craft, and loves my heart for story. She’s tough, and she’s love. The perfect combination.

Another piece of advice I give my students: find that right reader, and if you can, marry her.

“A man’s greatest treasure is his wife – she is a gift from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22

{Originally posted as a countdown to our silver anniversary}

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