Don’t Underestimate The Value of Distancing Yourself From Your Work


     It’s been over a month since my last post, but I have a good reason. I had a great vacation during which I did no writing. I also got a new book deal and I spent time before the vacation finishing it up. Since I got back I’ve been involved in another project that’s kept me not only away from Screenwriters Rehab, but the project I’d been working on since February.
     Without going into details (it’s not good to talk about your work when you’re writing it), it’s something I’ve gone back and forth on for over a year, but it was going to be the thing I wanted to finish by the end of Summer. I think I still may be able to, primarily because the distance I’ve had from it has invigorated me. I feel refreshed and excited to get back into it.
     And I do mean excited. I re-read what I have so far to familiarize myself with the characters and plot and I’ve already gotten fresh ideas and a stronger perspective. One of the story points I came up with is major. I don’t believe I ever would’ve found it if I hadn’t been away from the script these last couple of months.
     This is a simple example of the importance of distance, whether you have 30 pages or a first draft.
     Most screenwriters, myself included, loathe putting the script away for a few weeks, let alone a few months, largely because we want to get it done and “out there” to get a deal or an agent or manager.
     I can speak from past experience: distance works. Usually it was forced on me. I’d finished something. It got read. The feedback wasn’t great or it was good, but with a proviso strong enough to make me take another pass. And that pass made the script better.
     As difficult as it is for me to be patient, I’ve learned that being patient with a script is crucial. And to me, patience means giving yourself some time away from your baby.

25 comments:

  1. Very happy that you're back. I understand what you're saying. I hate not waiting. As soon as I finish a script, even if it's a first draft, I want to send it out to agents (to try and get an agent). But with a lot of reluctance I try to hold off, even if it's only two or three weeks, and there's a difference. A fresh eye, as the saying goes.

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  2. Distance from a script is a good thing. Setting it on fire, burying the ashes, changing your name, flying overseas, and spending your remaining days in a hut in Burma is an even better thing! I apologize in advance if this is what you were going to already say in your next entry...

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  3. I've had a problem with giving my work distance for years. I recently was lucky enough to get a manager who insisted that I not look at my screenplay for one month. It's killing me. Three weeks and four days. But now I find myself looking forward to seeing it, almost as if it's an old friend.

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  4. Couldn't agree more! I recently looked at a script I finished (and had previously done rewrites on) more than two years ago. I had feedback on it from a few people that I never got around to addressing. When reading the dialogue with fresh eyes -- and a more experienced ear -- I ended up shaving about five pages from the script (though I must admit that some of it was also rewritten, trimmed action blocks).

    Happy you're back to posting. :)

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  5. Congrats on the book deal DB, I am jealous and wish you all the best with it.

    I've tried this distance technique with my writing and I have yet to be able to start writing again... I'll sit in front of my computer and stare at my monitor for hour (sad sauce status). I would put my loserness rating at about 9.61 and I would be a perfect 10 if I wasn't lying to myself.

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  6. That sure is some good advice, D.B. I'm new here and sure glad to have found you. You seem to be pretty knowledgeable about your chosen field. I've got a screenplay I let go for a while and now I'm getting back to it and it does seem to offer a lot of new possibilities. I'd be obliged if you'd visit my blog - Big Thoughts, Small Talk. Although I've been told it's more the reverse. Anyway, I'd appreciate the visit. Bud F.X. Landry
    http://bigthoughtssmalltalk.blogspot.com

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  7. It's true, I revisited a script that I had finished a while ago and I had a completely new vision for how it should go. I'm following that and it's going well. Distance blurred the details and allowed me to see it afresh.
    And Bud, I'll check you out buddy.

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  8. The distance you speak of has been a part of my life for years. I started writing plays before turning to screenplays and my agent insisted on waiting a month after completing a first draft before sending it to him. I would tell him it was done and he would say talk to me in 5 weeks. I'd frustratingly wait 4 weeks, then do another pass, then pass it on to him. It worked. He got me several productions.

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  9. P.S. Glad you're back and running.

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  10. I found that distance from a script is more important than two or three rewrites. It gives you a real clarity as to not only what you've written, but what you're writing about.

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  11. This is a lesson younger or newer writers don't like to learn. I think it's a rite of passage for a writer...very hero's journey.

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  12. I agree with Nash. I think you have to be doing this awhile in order to appreciate the value of waiting. I now wait at least six weeks after I finish a second draft before looking at it again.

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  13. Oh yes. Very happy you're back. I look forward to reading your new book.

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  14. Relevant topic for me as I am easily distracted from my current screenplay. I may write once a week and feel lazy about it, however, I do my best when I let it sit for a few days. Or at least I think I do..I am close to finishing but it's the most challenging part so far...welcome back..

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  15. I only hope to get to the point where I can finish something so I can give it distance. My problem is completion. Since I'm so undisciplined I don't think I'll have a problem not working on something for awhile once a draft is done.

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  16. Didn't realize how much I looked forward to what you have to say until you were gone. I found myself really missing your insights. This latest one is, fortunately, something that I'm pretty good at. I don't even show my first draft to anyone for about 3 weeks after I've finished it. Welcome back.

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  17. I once waited 9 months to look at something I wrote, primarily because I thought it was done and I sent it out and had no takers, so out of pure frustration, thinking it was crap, I put it away. Then someone I knew told me about a producer who was looking for a script kind of like mine so I looked at it after 9 months and got a whole new perspective. I did a major write of the first act, then some tweaking here and there and I ended up having a new script. I changed the title too.

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  18. I once waited a year. The time gave me a fresh look and made it better. Despite this lesson, I still have a hard time giving it more than a couple of weeks distance.

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  19. Point well made. We live in an instant gratification world. Is there any wonder writers don't want to wait and let their work blossom. It took me a long time to learn the value of distance and fresh eyes.

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  20. I just found out about your blog. Read this one first. You've gotten me hooked. I'm going to start from the beginning.

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  21. I've learned to give myself one month between the first final draft and the draft that will ultimately be sent out. I have 2 people I show my work to, but the ultimately final draft is mine and read with fresh eyes.

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  22. I give me scripts too much distance. When I finish something I usually hate it and I'm afraid to send it out so I put it away for a year or longer and if I don't still hate it I work on it again.

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  24. happy you're back! distance terrifies me while I'm in it, but love the inspiration and objectivity you get from spending time away. The best changes and redirection come when you've a new POV and a fresh martini in hand. Cheers and am looking forward to new postings.

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