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Deciding What to Write Next

August 2, 2019
3 min read time

If you ask for opinions on your writing, you’re likely to get them—both the good, and the constructive. Notes and feedback are part of the creative process. In fact, they are mandatory once you have your very first draft of your script. Without an “audience” perspective, how can you know if your story is experienced the way you intended it? You can’t.

But here’s the tricky part: prior to a first draft, other people’s opinions can steer you wrong. When your idea isn’t fully formed and executed in some tangible way, you run the risk of well-meaning outside opinions running counter to your Authentic Lens. I’ve talked about this Lens in previous articles, so I’m not going to give you a long spiel here. In short, your Authentic Lens is your unique way of seeing the world as a function of your specific life experience. Nobody else has it. When you write through it, you write a script that no other person can. Your script is therefore new, original and fresh, which gives you the best possible positioning for a sale or job. Your Lens is not only comprised of your experience, but also of your passion and interests, which change as you do, and life does. Your Lens is also not necessarily a fixed viewpoint.

I recently had a writer pitch me 10 loglines over the phone in hopes of finding out which one she “should” pursue. My answer was two questions:

  1. Which one are you most excited about?
  2. Which is the story that only you can write? (i.e. is it told through your Authentic Lens?)

If it’s not a story only you can write, then the next step should be figuring out how to inject enough of your DNA into the story that it becomes one that only you can write. Or, whether you are better served by mining your Lens for a new idea. Because if your script is not written through your Authentic Lens, I can almost guarantee it will not get traction. A non-Lens script can be extremely well written and professionally executed. It may even win contests. But it will not break you in. Your Lens is the secret sauce that compels the reader to meet you, because they have had a new/fresh/original experience and want to meet the person behind it. If it’s a story that isn’t specific to you, they don’t need to meet you because someone already working in Hollywood can write that script. And let’s face it. Hollywood is a serious money-making business. If I’m hiring a writer and I read two very professional samples, I’m going with the person who has more experience every time. Swap screenwriter with heart surgeon: who would you want performing heart surgery on you? The doctor doing it for the second time or the seventieth?

So, how can you expose your work to others while still maintaining your authority, interest and ownership of the story? By defining the you-ness in it right from the start. By being choosy about whom you ask for notes. And by asking for feedback within the parameters you are working with. When I get stuck with something I’m writing, I solicit feedback from four writers whom I know and trust, and whose own work I greatly admire. Whom I ask also depends on what my issue is and who is available for a quick chat.

Did I say don’t ask for email notes? Don’t ask for email notes. Hop on the phone or FaceTime for 10 minutes. You will be able to ask questions and go back and forth rather than just reading a set of declarations. I usually start feedback calls with a few key questions to spark discussion with one of my trusted note givers once they’ve read my work. They know going into reading my script that I love and am committed to this idea and character. So they may say, “I see a way for the story to build in a more unusual way,” or, “I can’t feel what your character wants in the middle,” but they are never saying, “I would write something else completely.” If they bring up new opportunities and ideas, great. I will listen, because I have chosen to speak to a writer I know and respect. But on the other hand, if I disagree with one person’s opinion, I don’t sweat it. If three people give me the opinion, “I feel like she needs a confident,” then I know that something is missing. It may not be a new character, it could be a deeper understanding of the existing character, but either way, I know exactly which aspect of the script needs looking at.

Homework: If you don’t have three writers whose work you love and respect enough to trust their notes, it’s time to find them! Join a writer’s group. Swap scripts on Reddit or Facebook. Take a class. Go to festivals and events where you meet other writers. This will not only help your writing, it will help your career. See my article on NETWORKING for the source of every job I’ve had since age 22. Hint: it involves building those trusted relationships.

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