Ponderings of a Playwright: The Journey to Draft Two
Anthony J. Piccione
OnStage New York Columnist
Late last year, I hit a fairly significant milestone, related to a project that I’ve been working on for awhile now. After one whole year and nearly 100 pages written, I had completely the first draft of my new full-length drama. The concept for this play had been bubbling around in my head for a lot longer than even that, so when I finally got around to finishing this first draft, I couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit of pride, for finally making it to this point.
After that, I printed out the script, and locked it away in one of the drawers in my apartment where there was still some space left. I wanted to give it about a month or so before I even thought about revisiting it. After all, I don’t want to rush anything. I want to be able to take my time with this script. It’s important to make sure that once the final draft is completed, whenever that may be, I’m not putting out a giant, incoherent mess for the entire world to see. There was no way for me to objectively go back and do that, immediately after completing the latest version of this script, which at the time, I felt very proud of.
So I waited…and waited…and waited and waited…
…until finally, after a little more than a month, I took it out, dusted it off, poured a glass of red wine to enjoy with it, and started reading.
I wanted to just read through the whole thing – from beginning to end – before making any changes. As I’ve grown as a playwright, the one thing I’ve learned about rewrites is that you should never start a second draft, until you already know what you don’t like about the first draft. (Maybe some might say that I should have known that even sooner, but hey, I know now, right?) So I just started reading, thinking that maybe there wouldn’t be TOO MUCH to dislike about it. Obviously, there would still be some things worth adding or changing, but for the most part, I figured this would be an activity I would find quite leisurely, not unlike a good play or book that I picked up from the library.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Before I go any further, I should note that the play I’m referring to – loosely based on events in my own life – was already based on a weird concept, which I can’t fully articulate in this column without giving it all away, and it was supposed to be. As I wrote the first draft, I often just wrote whatever it was that first came to mind, and I made sure to write down as much as I could, without second guessing myself, and if I made any mistakes, they could be fixed at a later date.
So naturally, as I finally reached that “later date”, I wasn’t 100% thrilled with everything that I had written. If anything, more often than not, I caught myself asking “why did I ever write that down, in the first place?!”
I forget exactly how long it took for me to read the entire thing, but I remember having to drink at least two – maybe three – glasses of wine, to get through it. Not all of was because of such errors I made, I should note. Some of it had to do with certain parts of my life that I wrote about, that made reading it as much of an emotional task for me as writing it. Still, I’ll admit that certain aspects of the way I’d written it also had something to do with it.
The next day, however, I was ready for the next step.
I made a large pot of coffee, got out my pen, and started reading through it again. This time, I kept stopping and writing notes and crossing out chucks of what I’d written, as I went. These days, especially, I prefer to write out my possible edits on paper, on the printed out copy of the script. I’m not sure how other playwrights choose to go through the process of rewrites, but for me, I find that to be an easier approach, as it helps me when I go back to my laptop – where the script itself is ACTUALLY written – and decide what changes do and don’t go into the second draft.
I think I speak for a lot of playwrights when I say that it’s not always easy, when you decide to make certain changes to what you’ve written. In some cases, it can involve taking out entire chucks of what you’ve written. In this case, I’ve had chucks of dialogue – and in some cases, entire scenes – in the first draft that I realized were completely unnecessary to the core of the story that I was trying to tell, and have since been removed. That part is easy, but what comes after isn’t always so easy, when it also involves not just starting the dialogue of certain scenes from scratch, but also moving around when certain scenes take place in the play, and also perhaps adding new scenes, to clarify other things that I didn’t realize needed more clarity. (I can’t really go into more specifics on my own play, beyond that. Hopefully, it gets produced at some point, and people will have a better understanding of what I mean here, at that time.)
Still, as I’m in the middle of making these changes and writing this second draft, I’m optimistic about how it’s turning out, and as difficult – for multiple reasons – as it’s been for me to do it, I think I’m going to end up with a MUCH better second draft, once it’s all said and done. Writing it was never going to be easy for me, given the very personal subject matter I’m exploring with this play. (Again, hopefully it’ll be produced, and then potentially theatergoers can find out what I mean, at that time.) Yet it’s an idea that I’m VERY passionate about, that I really want to see produced on stage, and I’m feeling very confident that the play is going to be much better, after I finish the changes I intend to make in this draft.
I’d been spending a couple of weeks focused on this script now, with the goal of writing at least two or three pages a day, at a bare minimum. Only recently did I take a short break from working on it, while I was visiting family in Connecticut for the holidays. But now, I’m very excited to be getting back to work on it, now that we’re at the beginning of 2017. Whether it comes after this draft or one of the drafts after that, I can’t wait for people to see the first staged reading of this new play in NYC, in the near future. Then, after that, who knows where it will go from there?
Anyway, on that note, I should probably get back to actually writing this play, instead of writing about writing it. Shouldn’t I?
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet, critic and essayist based in New York City.
To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage) and on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione).