In Thoughts on Writing

In my book, The Craft of Christian Songwriting, I write about the creative process. A lot of experts have parsed the subject lots of ways with lots of different terms and descriptions. But in the end, the creative process pretty much boils down to Starting, Working and Finishing.  For writers, the Finishing stage is called rewriting. And it can be a bear.

Most of the time, writing is a joy.  Almost all of the time, rewriting is tedium.

Writing is about Big Ideas. Rewriting is about details.

Writing is about tapping into one’s brilliance. Rewriting is about admitting your insufficiencies. Tell me, where is the fun in that?

Rewriting is such a time-consuming chore that most beginners and many amateurs just don’t do it. The thrill of the initial creative binge is what they crave. It is the conquest of Inspiration over Perspiration. “Why waste time rewriting a perfectly good song/story/play/poem that spewed out of me in a blinding flash of inspiration?” (Hint: Because, odds are, it is not perfectly good.)

I am reminded of these truths about rewriting these past weeks. I have been working on a stage musical for Brightmoor Christian Church (Novi, MI) for months now. More than a year, in fact. I’ll share details on the show itself in another post. But suffice it to say, the show is ambitious: a 2 1/2-hour two-act musical period piece. I am writing the script and the songs. I delivered the first complete draft of the libretto (the script and lyrics) October 31. There were five partial drafts that preceded it. It ran 119 pages, which is too long.

By the time we did a read-through in mid-January, with songs, I was five more drafts down the road. And rather than shrinking, the script had stretched to 124 pages, with 26 songs and reprises. I was going the wrong direction.

Since the read-through, I have devoted some 60+ hours rewriting the show, resulting in another five drafts. (Some drafts changes are significant. Others are minor.) The show is now 107 pages long and down to 21 songs and reprises. And though the show now feels like “the show,” it will no doubt be changed further as we put it on stage.

We tend to regard our creative output as our “babies.” And it is never easy to change our perfect little children. But that’s what we have to do if we are to give our very best efforts.  In the case of this show, we cut a half-dozen characters and just as many songs. We tossed out finished songs simply because they didn’t serve the show as best they could.  I cut entire scenes, which were clever and fun, because they slowed the story down. And I cannot say for certain that more songs and scenes will end up on the chopping block before we are through.

So I offer to you that rewriting is the toughest stage of writing. It is, at times, absolutely brutal work. But if you don’t do it, you aren’t finished yet. As they say – “Writing is rewriting.”

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