Comedian Bill Bushart said, “One of my pet peeves is to watch a comedian plow through his jokes and continue dying on the stage. I have to address it. I have to acknowledge it and I learned that by doing that, you can change the energy in the room sometimes.” (Comedy Extensions: Bill Bushart, Pt. 2 1/10/13)
In other words, if it isn’t working then, for the love of all that is holy, switch gears!
Bushart was talking about comedy, but I think this pet peeve can be applied to just about anything. Whether you’re trying to fix something without first knowing how, or trying to change a bad habit, there comes a time when you have to stop what you’re doing and say, “Maybe, I need to try something different.”
If you are a writer, you could certainly learn the importance of knowing when something isn’t working and that’s what this blog is about.
I spent the last two weeks working on a screenplay. It’s a comedy and I write all of my comedy screenplays with a writing partner. Why? Because comedy is hard and when it comes to funny material, it is always best to have two heads involved. Normally, I come up with a story idea that has a comedy bent to it. I then structure it, put in my jokes, and send it off to my writing partner. He then reads it, adds his structure and fine tunes the dialogue. We then discuss jokes and what ifs then I rewrite. He’ll take a pass at the script then we read it and agree or not if it’s ready for the manager. We don’t perfect the script until the manager has had his input. Sometimes, the manager’s input is good; sometimes it’s neutral. The important thing is whether he thinks it is a marketable script or not.
Anyway, I had a good idea and we made the mistake of talking about the “what ifs” before I finished the first draft. The “what ifs” took the script in an entirely different direction. I, like an idiot, decided to try and implement the “what ifs”. In a nutshell, it was disastrous. The story became a hodgepodge of plots and genres. It was awful. Yes, I could rewrite it. After all, writing is rewriting. However, I knew that if I were to rewrite the script, I would actually just be writing a whole new script. The “what ifs” were great ideas for another story, but not the one I was writing. The one I was writing was merely a springboard to another story. I failed to recognize that when talking about them. So, you know what I did? I threw out the script.
But, Gary, all that work. You wrote 90 pages! All that time! What about that?
Meh, who cares? I realized long ago that if it isn’t working then just trash it and move on. All the great writers knew this and practiced it with heartbreaking and frustratingly frequent occurrences. It’s the nature of the beast.
So, what did I do? I started over, writing the original story I had in mind, but before I did, I outlined a new one using the “what ifs” my writing partner and I discussed. I’ll finish the first script in a couple of weeks and shoot it over to my partner. While he’s toiling away at his writing, I will be starting the second script. Do you see what trashing the first one did? Instead of trying to cram ideas into the first, I merely created a second story.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to throw it all away. If you have the mindset that you have nothing to lose, then you gain everything. This applies not only in writing and comedy, but in life, as well.
Happy writing and happy living!