Saturday, October 05, 2013

How to Revise a Tweet

I recently tweeted something that got several dozen immediate retweets:
When you get to the end of a first draft, it's always a great feeling because you know you're at least 1% of the way there.
Many of the retweets and "amens" were from screenwriters, journalists, and professional wordsmiths.

The tweet came about because I was reading William M. Akers's Your Screenplay Sucks (a fine book, BTW), and I found myself smirking when Akers said, on p. 126, "When you get to the bottom of your first draft, congratulations, you're about 1/10 of the way done!" Smirking because, as any writer knows, "1/10 of the way done" is off by a factor of ten. With a screenplay, especially, you're nowhere near 1/10 of the way done after a first draft.

So yeah, I swiped Akers's line for my tweet, but I rewrote it (Akers won't mind, he's a screenwriter), because frankly it needed work. "Get to the bottom" needed shortening to "get to the end," and the word "congratulations" isn't exactly right; it conveys sarcasm rather than conjuring the false sense of security you get when you've finally written a draft of something.

I thought about replacing  "you're about 1/10 of the way done" with "you're about 1/100 of the way done," but the latter is weak. The word "about" weakens it, plus 1/100 is low-impact/fuzzy. Far better to say 1% (crisp, light, less filling).

When I thought I was done, I had:
When you get to the end of a first draft, it's always a great feeling because you know you're 1% of the way there.
Still not the best wording, because I wanted to maximize the irony of "1%." Remember, the whole point is that you have a tremendous false sense of confidence after finishing a first draft. To bring out the irony a bit more, I decided to say "at least 1%."

Every writer knows that the real writing happens during revision. (As Hemingway famously quipped, every first draft of something is shit.) Turns out, it applies even to tweets.