Every morning, Phil Connors wakes up in Punxsutawney, PA, and it’s Groundhog Day. He has to relive the same day over…and over…and over…until he finally gets it right. That’s the premise of the movie Groundhog Day.
When Phil first realizes that he has freedom from consequences, he does all the naughty things he’d never get away with if the day didn’t start over fresh at 6:00 AM the next morning, like pigging out on pastries…while smoking. This is the writer at the beginning of the project. Authors read the same thing over…and over…and over again, trying to get the right outcome so they can move on to the next project. When we’re fresh into the rewrites, we might come up with ideas that seem crazy, but we try them anyway.
Then Phil starts to seduce the women of Punxsutawney, sussing out their likes and dislikes day by day so he can bed them. When he finds a woman who is worthy of love, he discovers that he can’t manipulate her into a seduction. It fails every time, and it becomes an obsession until finally he despairs and tries to kill himself every conceivable way, only to wake up in one piece the next morning. In the writer’s next passes through the manuscript, we try to seduce the reader with just the right phrase, but as we work through to something worthwhile, all the manipulation becomes obvious. It reaches the point where we think the whole work is crap and we want to “kill it”and start over.
Phil finally accepts his position, and he starts to do one thing every day to improve himself. He finds out where danger lurks, and he’s always in time to save the day. He takes piano lessons until he gradually becomes a great jazz pianist. He stops focusing on his wants and looks outside himself, and he becomes the great guy who wins the heroine’s heart. Eventually, we writers stop working at being funny or pulling heartstrings or making a point, and we just let go and make it all about the reader’s experience, and that’s when things fall into place.
The journey isn’t always as fun as the movie Groundhog Day, but the results are worth the effort. Now if only we could figure out a way to skip the first steps… .