Every writer does rewrites or drafts, especially screenwriters. I do not think any screenwriter every did a McCartney and smashed out a perfect first draft after the initial idea. Just getting the first draft on paper is enough of an achievement, without the pressure of getting it right at the first time of asking. The writing of a screenplay is a write-and-repeat process, hopefully, improving and refining the work as you do so.
You have written your umpteenth draft, no typos or waffle, every scene working and seamlessly flowing into the next. You know the characters and can see them, their actions, their emotions, their motives. The exposition is organic, no forced or unnecessary characters randomly popping up to explain bits of the plot. Your script is tight. You send it out and get feedback; it’s good but… you tweak, edit, write some more, get more feedback. Hmm…I like it but…
I have said before that it will ultimately be up to you to decide whether your work is ready or not. There will always be differing opinions, those who feel you could have approached the subject differently, but in the end, it has to be your voice, your words, your decision. That being said, sometimes you are forced to heed the obvious message that the ‘yeah, I like it but’ is telling you, especially when it is coming repeatedly. Something is not working.
When a screenplay is not working on a fundamental level; the story is not engaging, perhaps a character does not work or belong, maybe the first act is weak, something is definitely askew. It needs a rewrite, no tweaking, no minor changes, a tear-up-the-script-and-start-again rewrite. I have gotten to that stage with a script I have been writing for a few years now. It needs a rewrite of surgical proportions, the ‘buts’ and ‘ums’ tell me that.
When you’ve written a script, one you’ve really invested in, you have come up with a story that you believe is worth writing and seeing, so much so you write it and rewrite it almost without a break, only to belatedly realise that as compelling as your premise is, your execution leaves a lot to be desired. That is a hard place to be in. You have already played the episode or film in your mind, heard the dialogue and seen the reactions. Now you have to forget all of that and create new images, whilst still retaining the same premise.
I suppose it is the ego that suffers the most, the realisation that the story you fashioned for the purpose of expressing your premise is not very good. It is a hard truth to follow, especially when your log line, premise, has proved quite compelling. It can and does hit at the core of you as a writer, great ideas or premises are not exactly rare, the great execution of either is though. Life is full of people who have great stories that have never been told and great ideas that have never been fulfilled, so to have made the effort to complete an idea only for it to ultimately be subpar, is demoralising.
It is a good thing I suppose, as it helps to keep one grounded – a few of Hollywood’s finest could do with such grounding. Believing in one’s own brilliance can create a sense of entitlement that no writer should fall prey to. I feel every writer needs a degree of fear and uncertainty, it helps to keep the creative juices keen, fires the synapses. As much as you need to be confident in the idea or premise, it is the uncertainty that keeps you exploring, looking for different scenarios and story angles. It keeps you asking the necessary questions, the questions that spark, perhaps, that little moment where the story comes together and you are smiling as you’re writing excitedly. For those moments of flow, being in the zone, the temporary mental anguish is worth it.