Process: Editing

The golden rule is that writers should not edit their own work. That is, seemingly complete works that are ready to be disseminated. I break this rule all the time, primarily with the happenstance that the general population would classify me as an “emerging artist” given my credentials, and I don’t have the luxury of an editor or an agent (yet). The worst thing you can do is ask another writer to take a look at your writing, as best described by the character of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s A Midnight in Paris: “If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”

With plays and screenplays it is almost imperative to receive feedback from other writers, the harsher the better despite the fact that a writer is typically his/her own best/worst critic. One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever got was from another playwright who attended my very first staged reading. When I asked him for his contact information after he praised my work many times over and I explained to him that I wanted to see if he could share some of his contacts with me he replied, “I don’t want to give you any of my contacts. This play has got legs…”.

Now that I am shopping around my scripts to people that I’ve networked through my own volition and experience, I know better than to delve into correcting every little comma or expository clause – that is the pain and glory of rewrites that are inevitable and unavoidable no matter the circumstances of the director’s or producer’s lust for your talents.

I’ve been editing like mad – though I know I shouldn’t be, but I must do it in order to fit the brief of special requests, and I do this quite often with my scripts that I submit to contests in order to adhere to specific guidelines therein.

Yesterday I was looking for an old script (much of my complete writing took place shortly after my aforementioned launch pad staged reading during my golden years of 2005-2008 when I had a regular gig writing scenes for a burlesque troupe) and I found one of THOSE UNFINISHED NOVELS. Any writer will know what this is. This is one of those aborted babies that you wouldn’t dare throw out with the bath water. It was “the one” – the genius that was penned in the hopes of proving to the world that you are “the one”.

Originally written on a yellow legal pad, I transcribed the story onto a computer file, and I remember that the idea came about right after I read The Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz. It was compelling to face the demon once again and I took right away to editing it – noting the vast differences in my abilities now compared to then – so many silly typos and so much comma worshipping of my yesteryears!

What was the most daunting and alluring challenge was the period piece nature of the work. Written over 8 years ago, so much of the scenes and stories are made up of time-specific nuances, especially antiquated technology. This is something that I face with my current work; it is hard to keep up with the advents of social media and hardware and software because there is always something new on the horizon.

This novel that I’ll never finish was adapted into a one-act that I expanded into a full length play, with similar themes but new characters altogether. I titled it “The End of the Beginning” and took the opening monologue out and had it performed during a night of contemporary vaudeville at the opening show of my Hokum Arts venture in 2006. That play then became the basis of my newest UNFINISHED NOVEL, a story with a similar background (to break the tension, I write mostly about starving artists and love quadrilaterals).

My goal is to stop editing and give all of these things to an editor, otherwise I’ll keep regurgitating unfinished pieces. It’s a lovely trap that I’ve put myself in – giving birth to all of these babies and enduring the fear of an empty nest.



The big red door…What the fuck am I doing here? I wish I could remember who I was, who I am with, what time it is, what’s this shit spilled on my shirt, where this bruise on my arm came from, and more importantly, what the fuck am I doing here again!? I’m being dragged across wobbly, busted cobblestones. There is still no explanation as to why these fucking bars and nightclubs decide to build their establishments right in front of the most fucked up and inconvenient terrain as if it wasn’t challenging enough lurching through dark parking lots searching for any sign of where I left my car or stumbling over potholes being led home by some Ben Affleck looking guy that had the really good smile and the really bad laugh that just so happened to by me a drink just in time for my standards to disintegrate before me. My vision is blurred as I am being practically gang-raped from behind by a big school of drag queens, the Barbara Streissand looking one asking me if I have any crystal, or “Tina” as he/she calls it.

“No man, sorry,” I manage to slur from my cotton-mouthed mouth, coughing and aheming all the way.

“Well, let’s move your arse a little faster honey, Mama needs a little pick me up and fast,” he/she slurs back at me with his/her elbows in my back.

I’m feeling nauseous now, looking up at the infamous big red door, gothic and cathartic in all its glory. A symbol epitomizing all that is passé in the _____ nightlife scene. I am already loathing the feigned smiles and sullen faces. The guy in the corner with the twitching problem, the exhibitionistic couples scattered ever so accurately throughout the dance floor, at the pool table, blocking the entrance to the unisex (and then some) bathrooms that someone’s already puked all over by 10:30; all of them half-naked and embarrassing, tossing themselves about the joint as if they were being paid to put on such a show. The music will suck. I’m sure that D.J. Disappointment will be on hand all night spinning non-stop tracks and mixes and beats of the most overrated, pop hoppy, housey drum and bassish techno bullshit. There will be an abrupt fight on the dance floor between two Guidos trying to get up on the same (girl?) with the really obvious breast implants. I know I’m going to run into everyone except the one I really want to see. There’ll be Mike and John and Mike, and Paul and Sam and that guy with the staring problem (he was always fucking staring at me!). The guy with the vet, Kevin and Jay and the really funny Jewish guy who bought me that funky heart shaped ashtray from Urban Outfitters, and the guy who took me to his office and I cut my leg on the coffee table, and Jim and Jim, and I’m sure both of the bartenders will be working, and the barback (what was his name, Josh?). And Ronnie and Fred, Mikey J., Ralph, Kevin (he still has my Portishead CD), and Jessi and Terry will certainly be here (God I don’t want to see them). I’m sure Rob will be playing pinball. And of course Greg will show up just to top off my night.

I guess I could be a bit more optimistic. I might just get lucky tonight, that’s if I haven’t already. I think I am starting to see shit and my skin is tingling like a motherfucker. What is today anyway? I hope it isn’t pedophile night or hip-hop night or freggin’ Goth night. Not that every night isn’t gay night.

Now I can actually see who is tugging on my hand making me ram into two underage prostitots in pleather pants and spaghetti strap tank tops, one crying because she can’t find her fake I.D. Whatever. Apparently I met some dude with a close cropped beard wearing tight assed Levi’s and a white tee shirt. He’s yelling something back at me. I grin and nod my head as he looks passed me at someone with a big hooded parka and gives him the thumbs up. Where the hell did this guy come from? We’re getting closer to the big red door and I can see Dave the doorman. I can’t wait for him to give me his extra special frisk just for fun since he already knows that I have at least three dime bags of coke, a few tabs of some Saturn Sunset or whatever it’s called blotter acid, a sack of kind bud, a vile of K and a flask of Jack Daniel’s. I’ll meet him in the VIP lounge later.

I reach down in my frayed vintage leather jacket and make sure my flask is still there. I opt to take a couple of swigs before I go in. All of a sudden I’m climbing stairs and I spill some sweet whiskey on my smorgasbord of spilled substances already polluting my new Disel shirt. Whatever. When mystery man and I finally get pushed to the door, I wave to Davey and he smiles and yells, “Hey sexy!”, before returning to his argument with some girl who probably wanted more than just to give him a blowjob. He pushes me through with this guy and we’re in.

Deep breath. I turn around and give the big red door one last look. Mystery man has disappeared already. Social dysfunction everywhere. Just how I pictured it. Just how I always see it. I am so sick of this bourgeois bullshit. What the fuck am I doing here? If only I had cable. The shoving has subsided and I stand paralyzed in a daze. Colors flashing, faggots twirling, bartenders flirting, eighteen year olds ODing, couples dry humping on the smoke laden dance floor, guys cruising meticulously, some of them drinking lukewarm Coor’s Light bottles, others fiddling with their hands in their pockets. I catch glimpses of laughs and strangers calling my name and pseudo conversations but the music is so bad and obnoxious nothing is really audible. My head is spinning but I am still dubiously conscious, recognizing a face here and there. I am scanning the four bars in the four corners of the room (all of them named after a color, respectively) then the game room upstairs that looks down on the club under a big glass floor, and then throughout the dance floor, squinting through the dissipating drama fog. And then, of course, as if in some fucking nightmare, my soothsaying and my pessimistic forecast prevail.

© Louis DeVaughn Nelson


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