Writing is rewriting. Sort of.
Writing is rewriting. So they say. And they are right, whoever they are. Right in the sense that your first ideas will hopefully be full of soul and early passion but they will also be raw, messy and loose and often simply not explored enough. Your first ideas are not always the best. They are just first.
The real magic comes in pushing and exploring and then tightening and streamlining and merging and cutting. Most of all, it can come in finding the surprises. Your first attempt is not likely to be the one that surprises because it is the very first thing you thought of.
So exploration is essential.
But it is important to note that rewriting alone does not get you that. In fact I find that the actual physical process of writing, typing stuff out, is engaging different parts of my brain to those that do the exploration. It’s possible that actual rewriting might get you little more than an edit.
You need to truly explore. Push the scenes, let them play out differently. Try things. But that process of taking your first ideas and pushing, testing and streamlining? It doesn’t have to be written. It certainly doesn’t have to be in a full draft or manuscript that you’ll ever show anyone. You don’t need a first draft. It can be scribbled notes. Recorded memos. Scenes built with Lego (this might be time-consuming). You don’t have to start your first draft of anything until you are ready. In fact, if you can afford the time, you might be best avoiding that for as long as possible. Why? Because sometimes it can be much easier to shape a story when it is not laid out in the way you lay out the final product – we get too attached to words that way. I know I do.
For me, I’m relying more on notes and outlines now to work out my stories. Often very rough at the start. I take think time and I work on them, get notes and amend. I don’t start a real draft until I know every beat and it is never the first draft of the actual story. Because a first draft has a unique energy, that soul and early passion, if I can effectively do rewriting in advance I can get that script working really well and keep that first draft energy. Sure, it will still need work. You can be certain of that. But the better shape the story is in when you deliver that first draft, the easier it will be to get to your final draft and the better it will be when you get there.
I think I like this approach because it is how we tackle animation production. In animation, we effectively go through the editing process before producing the actual animation. It means you know your story is working beforehand and, from there, you can focus on the life and the fun and the energy.
So yes, writing might well be rewriting. But just keep in mind that you can do a lot of the rewriting up front. What might be labelled ‘first draft’ on one script means a whole different thing on another. We all have different working methods but my advice is to make your first draft script so much more than a first draft story.