The Three Essential Rules of Successful, Effective Editing!

Blog post header; text on blurred pink flower petals reads, "editing your writing. The three essential rules of successful, effective editing."

I’ve learned one really important thing when it comes to writing, which is entirely different than editing. This trick makes a world of difference whether you’re writing a screenplay or a TV pilot or a novel or memoir or blog or ad copy. If you’re writing, you need to be doing this one thing.

In fact, you might already be doing it.

I call it the “fuck it” draft. Other people have different names like “scratch,” or “ideas draft” or something else, but I like the irreverence of swearing, so it’s “fuck it.”

It’s a draft that’s even rougher than your rough draft, and it definitely bears no resemblance to what your final draft will look like (that’s why we edit). Rather than trying to get a decent draft on the page, you just say, “fuck it!” and have a grand old time. If you’re anything like me, you flit between writing normally to bullet points to doodles that just sort of getting the idea of what you’re going for. No details, no rules.

Having a “fuck it” draft is a great way to get your words and world out of your head and onto the page. There is no necessity for perfection, and in fact, perfection is deeply discouraged. A lot of the “fuck it” mentality is to channel what you want to say about your world, and to have fun with it! That’s the point of writing, right? It’s supposed to be fun!

Now, that said; writing is the fun part, editing is the hell part.

How to Work and Write and Not Go Crazy

Finding a balance between following your dreams and working to pay the bills.

Writing is amazing if you love it. But for most of us trying to break into the business, it isn’t lucrative. (In fact, I wrote a whole dang post about things I do to manage my money specifically so writers can keep writing.) Maybe your novel will be the next big thing and get on Reese’s book club list, but the chances of that are slim, and in the meantime, you gotta pay the bills. Work comes first. And that’s okay.

In the past few years, I’ve had a myriad of jobs; service-oriented, administrative and editorial, and a few weird things in-between. Working full-time (while also balancing depression, anxiety, and PCOS, ugh) made the idea of coming home from work and writing seem utterly ludicrous. I imagine it’s the same for many of you.

Balancing life and a passion for writing is so freaking hard.

As I reflect on my past, working full time and writing, I’m surprised by how much I was able to get done. (Right now I’m living at home and not working and feel like I’m getting nothing done! Thanks, Covid-19 angst!). I had a whole slew of projects and was pretty productive on all of them. I realized that I had worked out a few little systems to balance my writing life with my work life. Again, it was hard; I wasn’t having the best time, but I knew I had to keep going up that mountain.

Here are some things I’ve learned that make the climb a little easier;

Write 100 Words (or 3-5 screenplay pages) before work.

(or after work, it’s your life)

Every day, sit down and try and write 100 words. It’s that simple. Usually, by the time you hit 100 words, you’re on a roll and can keep going until you lose steam. It’s not a lot of words, I get that. In fact, it’s a downright negligible amount of words if you’re trying to write a novel. Even then, sometimes 100 words can feel like pulling teeth. If that’s the case, hit your 100 and walk away; you’re still 100 words richer. (And if you’re one of my screenplay audience, 100 words is comparable to 3-5 pages of screenplay. If you can get 3 pages of screenplay done a day, you’ll have a 90-page screenplay in a month.)

It doesn’t have to be good either. Just getting the words on the page is an accomplishment. You can edit later

(And look, this section was about 130-ish words! See? it’s not that bad!)

5 Unexpected Books That’ll Make Your Screenwriting Better (and one popular one you can trash!)

There’s a slew of books and lists of books about how to write screenplays, and they’re all fine, but let me tell you, it’s the weird and unexpected books that really added to my writing chops. Read on for a list of books you need on your shelves to up your writing game, and your life!

(This article contains affiliate links from bookshop.org! Buying through these links gives me a small commission and supports independent bookstores! I’ve also included my regular amazon affiliate links for you as well if that’s easier.)


1. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook – Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (amazon link)

If you’re my age or older you may remember when this book, (along with a handful of offshoots and sequel books), came out. I bought my copy from the now-defunct Border’s to give you an idea of the time period (ah the early to mid-aughts. What a time to be alive).

This may not seem like the kind of book that would help with writing at all, but it is in fact a gold mine of plots, solutions, and tips for living in a dangerous world. If you’re writing an action movie, this is your bible! Not only does it outline what to do in weird, worst-case, situations (which actually eases my anxiety a lot) but it’s a trove of inspiration. Put your characters in these predicaments and see how they react. The best part, your characters probably don’t know the ‘right’ way to react in the situations in the book; these worst-case scenarios can get even wilder! 

Leave the actors alone! Writing scripts that actors love!

Lucy and Charlie Brown at Lucy's psychiatric help booth. The unofficial mascot of the dialogue doctor series.

Something I am guilty of doing in my screenplays and have to actively fix in later drafts of work is over-directing the actors. Adding too many ‘umm’s and notes. Not the worst no-no in screenwriting etiquette, but not a great look for anyone. It’s a habit that makes sense; you know how the scene is supposed to play out in your head, and writing it with every pause and tone clearly marked is comfortable and safe. Arguably it’s great for a first draft! There is no misinterpreting your words and meaning. Except that’s the problem, isn’t it?

(Betsy the Gremlin is a self-appointed Dialogue Doctor. Everyone says she’s good at writing dialogue and by gum she wants you to be good at it too! This post may contain affiliate links; I earn a small commission that helps support this blog when you purchase through these links at no cost to you.)

Wants and Needs and What That Means – Medium.com

© Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille

The first medium.com article I ever wrote, exploring the way that screenwriting instruction focuses on what characters want and need, but without explaining what those things actually mean in terms of writing. It’s a strange little language/code-switching barrier that warrants a deeper look, with Remy’s journey as a focal point.

One of the core elements in any text on screenwriting is to understand your protagonist’s want versus their need. On the surface, this seems reasonable. Knowing your character’s motivations — used here as a term for wants and needs as a driving force — is fundamental and relatable. How many times have you known that something you wanted was bad for you in some way and still wanted it? The internal conflict of a protagonist is when wants and needs don’t match up.

Betsy the Gremlin

Read the rest of the article here; ↘️

Wants and Needs and What That Means