There is no greater moment of trepidation for a Playwright — or any author, really — when you’re dealing with a Director or an editor who replies — “I’ll know it when I see it” — in response to your asking for clarification on a change they want made.

If you can, run away from that answer and I mean turn around, gather your things, and run away forever because hearing that sentence is the death knell for your project:  You are dealing with a power provoker who has no clue what it wants.

The trick these “Un-Knowers” use to try to get some understanding of what they clearly do not comprehend is to have you rewrite the scene or section several different times and many different ways and you present all those versions to them for the picking:  “They’ll Know It When They See It.”

You can see how that deceptive phrase sets up a never-win situation because you are caught in an endless rewriting loop trying to guess what they want when they have no idea what they really want. 

That lack of vision is common and that is why I always prefer Playwrights direct their own plays and authors publish their own books because command and control of the work is retained.  Any criticism leveled at the completed work is completely owned by the original author and no excuses have to be made for following someone else’s “revision” of your original intent — that may have obliterated all your meaning and values.

When you are stuck with “I’ll Know It When I See It” you are left to negotiate with someone who has no clue about structure or character of dramatic tension.  The way these types keep you in line is via the accusation-stated-as-fact:  “Authors never really know what their work is about.”  By making you doubt your talent, they are then able to get you to make their endless revisions because they “know better than you.”  Don’t fall for that falsity.  Remember, you know your work far better than anyone else and, in the end, you alone will be held responsible for the final product with your name on the project.

Don’t be fooled into getting hooked into the “I’ll Know It…” revision trap.  You know what you want.  You write and revise as best you can and then be done with it.  Do not allow the endless revision cycle of searching for meaning by those who obviously do not understand you or your work.

2 Comments

  1. That is such a terrible thing to hear from someone. It’s like trying to play with a Rubik’s cube in the dark and hoping for the best. Maybe if I change this and this? No? Okay, how about this?

  2. That’s the game — but you usually don’t find out until all the contracts are signed and you’re in the middle of rehearsal or in the center of a re-edit. It’s too late. You’re trapped. There’s no way out. You are forced to please a power that has no clue about the work you want and is only interested in creating the work they demand so they can “leave their mark” on you and your work.
    If you stand up for your work and refuse to make changes or if you only make a change or two — you are labeled “difficult” and such in order to shift The Blame of The Goat to you.
    So… you’re going to be blamed for any failure anyway — if there’s a success, everyone will claim credit — so you might as well take the hard side and own every decision made and employed.
    Only change what you believe in and then do so judiciously because one quick change just to please someone else’s aesthetic can adversely affect months of work on a piece of writing. Haste and deadlines have ruined more in-process projects than any other reason.

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