Thursday, July 19, 2012

"A Writing Habit, Tough To Break"

It happened as recently as not long ago. 

I had completed the first pass of my post about The Newsroom.  A “pass” means writing the thing, from beginning to end.  And “first” means…you know, I had never written it before, and now, I had written it once.  (I am a staunch advocate of the “No Reader Left Behind” policy, and am leery of losing any of you due to writerly esoterica, even at the risk of going overboard, which I may have done here, by defining the word “first.”)

What I do then, in my patented blogwriting procedure, is that I print this “First Pass”, I recline on the bed-couch in my office and I read it over, making hand-written changes – I’ve been known to make dozens of them, large and small – as I go. 

I then get up, return to my desk, and I transpose those hand-written changes onto my computer.  Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, or I can tolerate sitting in my desk chair for an extended period of time, I will type the changes directly onto my computer, cutting out the “reclining on my bed-couch and rewriting by hand on the printed-up copy” step of the process.   

So much for the “What is your blog writing process like?” question, which, come to think of it, I am not sure I have ever been asked.

Okay, so here we go.


I read over my “First Pass” go back to the beginning, making numerous legitimate improvements – replacing “good enough” words with the “bulls-eye” words that had eluded the first time around, reformulating the structure, removing the boring stuff and the stuff that may “tip” (give away) the ending, focusing the concept, sharpening the execution, mining overlooked comedic possibilities – the regular stuff that I do when I’m rewriting, which, in these posts may involve half a dozen passes, or more. 

I am really very thorough.  You deserve no less.  As do I.  My name is on this, after all.

Reading over my first pass of “Big Earlo On:  The Newsroom”, I discover, to my dismay and discomfort, that there is a substantial section of it, about two-thirds of the way through, that is in serious need of revision.  I know you expect a professional writer to provide a more accurate description of what was wrong with the “aggrieving portion” than, “It stunk.”  But I don’t think I can be more accurate.  It just stunk!

I have made, maybe, fifty changes during my “First Pass” Rewrite, including a reworking of “The Bad Part”, the area most in need of my attention, I proceed to the end, making more changes along the way.  I get up from the bed-couch, I go over to the computer, I type in my changes, and I print up my “First Pass” Rewrite.


I read over my “First Pass” Rewrite, going back to the beginning, and revising as I go.   There are fewer changes in my “Second Pass” Rewrite.  (As there will be fewer still on my “Third Pass” Rewrite.  And onward down the line.)

I arrive once again at “The Bad Part”, feeling increasingly wearied by my efforts, but plowing ahead.  I rewrite “The Bad Part”, work my way to the finish, transcribe my “changes” onto the computer, and press “Print.”


I re-read my “Second Pass” Rewrite, again starting from the beginning, again devising changes as I go.  The post is getting closer.  Even “The Bad Part” is better.  But it’s still not any good.  My point is not clear.  Probably because I’m not entirely certain what it is.



I’m going through it again.  From the beginning.  And when I get to “The Bad Part”, it finally comes to me what to do.

I complete my “Fifth Pass” Rewrite.  I “Copy” and “Paste” it onto my blog.  I schedule it for publication. 

I am tired.  But I am done.

And that’s when it comes to me.

I am suddenly thinking back to all the “Rewrite Nights” of all the shows I ever worked on – including the shows I ran – vividly recalling the exact same situation

It was usually the last scene that needed most of the work, what was called the “block comedy scene” where it all blows up and then comes happily together, providing the funniest, most satisfying “The End.  See you next week, folks” ending we could come up with. 

We always came back from the runthrough, and no matter how much trouble we were in at the end,

We inevitably began the rewrite at the beginning. 

“Page One.”

We rewrote out way through the script, and by the time we reached the “The Bad Part”…

It was midnight.

Or later.

Why didn’t we go straight to the “The Bad Part” first, and make the smaller “through the script” changes later?  That I can tell you in one word:


It makes enormous sense to tackle the most challenging part of the script when you are fresh and at your most energetic, but nobody I worked with – including yours truly – ever did it that way.

Maybe there was good reason for always starting the rewrite on “Page One.”  Maybe the runthrough had inspired the writers to come up with through-the-script joke upgrades.  Maybe there were structural issues that needed tweaking.  Maybe one of the problems with the last scene is that it was not properly set up, requiring going back in the script and buttressing the infrastructure.

Or maybe it was just tradition.

But that’s how we did it.  Arriving bleary-eyed to face the work that most needed us at our best.

I am now reaching the end of this post.  Perhaps, when I read over the printed-up version, I will find an area that is egregiously troubled.

What do you bet I will take on that area first?

My personal advice?

I wouldn’t bet that much.  


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; do you think any shows have thrown tradition out the window and work on scripts differently?


Earl Pomerantz said...

There are probably show runners who are less in thrall to tradition who went straight to the problem areas. Those trailblazers very likely came up with better answers. And they certainly got home earlier to see their families while they were still awake.