This Week in Coaching: Develop New Work, or Rewrite an Old Screenplay/TV Pilot?

As always, names have been changed to protect the innocent

(note: From next week on, these posts will be published under the acronym TWIC)

The other  day, I was sitting with a new client, who, for the sake of this post, I  will call James. We had just started working together, so after setting some goals for the year ahead, we now had his project list in front of us, i.e. an accounting of every screenplay or TV pilot that he has in progress, not yet complete or ready to show, with some detailed next steps about what needed to be done to get them developed, vetted and industry ready.

But next to every project title, whether it was a screenplay or TV pilot, there was a clear designation: REWRITE. None of these projects were new. And as James and I dug deep, I realized that this list was made entirely of projects that James wanted to revisit from his writing past. No new project in sight. And some of these were older projects went as many as ten years back.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a good rewrite. And over the years, I’ve seen many projects that couldn’t initially quite get over the hump finally get fully realized and live up to their promise after a good, comprehensive rewrite. More than once, I observed and supported my writers when they finished a new project, started getting it out, but then instead of jumping straight into a new screenplay or TV pilot, took a little time to engage in a rewrite of a previous project that they thought they could finally make successful.

When an agent or manager passes on a screenplay or pilot despite ultimately liking the writing, they usually ask the writer to send them the next thing they write. Same can very much be true for executives in a general meeting: They ask what you’re writing next and if they can see it; not to see everything you’ve ever written up until now. At least not most of the time. The idea is that the more you write, the more you develop new work, the better writer you become, so it’s your NEXT work that holds the most promise and potential.

Over time, many writers acknowledge that writing only seems to get harder the more they write. That’s because their definition of what makes a viable project, of what works conceptually, of what has the legs to succeed as a pilot, becomes narrower and narrower. So any new work you develop will inevitably and (most likely) be more conceptually and structurally sound, because it will encompass all you’ve learned up until now.

Like I said: I have nothing again a good rewrite. That is, as long as the writer has clarity on what it is that will finally make the screenplay or pilot work, and get it across the finish line. There is nothing wrong in looking for those answers; in reading old work and seeing if a clear fix comes to mind. But if it doesn’t, then it’s onto new work. After all, generating new screenplays, TV pilots and pitches (for those writers who are already working) is the writer’s lifeblood.