George S. Kaufman apocryphally said, “You don’t write a play.  You rewrite a play.”

Guess what?

Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 37, 39, 47 times before he was satisfied.

And you can now buy the manuscript with all of those endings included, sort of like a DVD with outtakes.

How do you keep track in the era of digital writing?

One colleague bird-dogs by date, but only prints major revisions.

Another numbers each iteration, sometimes getting up to a lot of integers.

Another writes short and then adds, not changing version numbers or file names.

Still another doesn’t even save a revision unless she counts it a “major rewrite.”  A few others also admit to slashing and burning without saving, with the idea that if they cut something important, if it’s useful or good, it will come back to haunt them anyway.

Another was told to make severe cuts in a script and must have blanched, because the dramaturg added, “Don’t worry – the words won’t bleed.”  She has held that aphorism near and dear ever since.

Someone else spoke about the slash-and-burn method but says she doesn’t employ it – particularly with version files – until she’s sure she has a final draft.  A really final draft.

Another is on perhaps the 15th draft of a work that began in the 1960s – she refers to early drafts for seminal character moments or backstories or bits of plot that are no longer useful on the page, but inform the arc of the play.

We’ve all discarded a play, or at least stuck it in the back of a drawer somewhere, a play that didn’t quite work, that we’ve pulled out every now and then and rewritten – sometimes making a completely different piece of work.  I have a musical that turned out not to be a musical, and then not to be a comedy, and I was hugely happy that I had all of my previous drafts to plumb.

Yes, I’m a hoarder.

I often begin work long-hand – how I love that word – and have a stack of notebooks only a few years into my writing life.

Once I transcribe onto the computer, I often go back and examine the handwritten beginnings; when I take car trips (which I’ve been known to do simply so that I can solve a writing problem), I pull off the highway into some secluded spot, preferably beautiful and shaded, and scribble my fool head off.  When I get back to my office, I transcribe.

On the computer, I make PDFs whenever I’ve added or subtracted something that feels significant.  I figure, it’s only hard-drive space.  I also keep long, detailed research files both on the computer and off.

Sometimes the research accrues to a different work.

I’m currently using one piece of source material for five different projects.

I save all those notebooks and back-up my computer obsessively.  Whenever I have a reading or workshop or production, of course the script gets printed and I save those printouts, often with my handwritten notes.

Which I transcribe into my ‘notes’ file.

By now, you’re probably thinking, how does she complete anything?

But I’ve made 20 works in 4 years, most of which have won a grant or competition, or had a reading or workshop or production.  Another 20 are in the works.

It’s getting more complex, the more works I have in process.  So I find it prudent to revisit my curation techniques from time to time.

That said, I’m always open to new ideas.

How do you track rewrites?

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