The Highs and Lows of Finishing the First Draft

A big red rollercoaster with a carriage of people about to descend The highs and lows of writing

I’m not entirely sure where all this time has gone. I think it’s been sucked into a vortex of disturbed nights, madcap days and juggling three too many things at once. But…

I finished the first draft of my screenplay!

On June 15th to be exact. It was momentous. I’d had the initial idea over 10 YEARS AGO. It still makes me twitch to think about the time that’s passed, not to mention I’m getting to an age where I can speak in decades quite comfortably…. anyway, it felt great.

What have I been doing since? Well, first I cut and pasted the script from a Word doc to a proper script format (I used Final Draft) which took a lot longer than I would have liked and had me cursing my decision to “free write” in Word to begin with.

The general advice is to give yourself at least a week (longer if possible) before reading your script. So, I watched a few pilot episodes and read a few scripts and barely a week later, I printed the whole thing out and strode proudly to a coffee shop. I imagined that someday people would say: “Did you know Elizabeth Inniss edited her first proper script here on Bearwood High Street?!”

With well-deserved coffee in one hand, I opened my script with a joy… that sizzled away like water on a hot plate as I realised my screenplay was SHIT.

I was trying to say too much, the dialogue creaked under the weight of exposition, I belaboured my points, had some boring bits of dialogue (you know, where you describe someone sitting down and eating, or the beginning of conversations that go: Hello, how are you? I’m fine, how are you?). Gah!

Leonardo di Caprio (Romeo) in Romeo and Juliet, kneeling in a corn field and crying to the gods: I defy you stars!

The break had afforded me some perspective and I could see the flaws I’d missed before. I didn’t finish reading. I gulped down my coffee and sped home to find Save the Cat and stamp on it. But before I did, I went back to the latest chapter and, lucky for my Kindle, it said:

You come back to that glorious hatchling, read it over from start to finish… and are suddenly struck dumb. It’s awful!!! Well, fear not. It always happens.

Oh OK.

A second (full) reading showed me it wasn’t all bad. I cut out the useless info (the “hi, how are you?” was the first to go) and read my books and a few articles like this and this on common errors newbie screenwriters make. After some serious editing, it started to shape up.

Once it was less cringe-worthy I sent it to my first (and kindest) reader, my partner, Matthew. As an experienced screenwriter, his insight would be valuable, as my love, his critique would be gently(ish) delivered. Of course, as soon as I sent it I wanted it to be read. Fortunately, Matt, who’d been waiting for about two years for this script, obliged.

The verdict….

He really liked it! It made him laugh, he engaged with and rooted for my characters and was moved – which is everything a writer of a character-driven drama wants to hear. He pointed out that I was still doing a lot of telling rather than showing and there were a few pacing issues but – and here’s the best bit: it’s not a disaster. Woohoo!

Mercutio from Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet going to a party. It's a handsome black guy in a white curly wig and golden glittery outfit, moving his arms elegantly while surrounded by sparkling lights.
First Draft Happiness

Naturally, I asked for reassurance that he was being as objective (as possible). I’m loath to be like those singers who appear on Britain’s Got Talent (or indeed any talent show) because a family member (usually a nana) has convinced them they’re great, when, actually, they’re tone-deaf.

If you’re in the in-between times, an artist trying to make something that’s only halfway there, or indeed anyone striving through a project which looks a bit of a mess right now, this amazing video could make you feel so much better (in only 2 minutes).

I’ve since edited Jackpot thoroughly and draft two is shaping up to be much improved. It’s been a lesson in humility and my writing is getting better each day. Thank goodness 😉