Weekend Writing Inspiration: Don't Take It Personally — How to Thrive While Receiving Feedback On Your Script
August 14, 2020
Receiving quality feedback on your screenplay is an invaluable step in the process of crafting a story that works. You’re only able to see so much about what’s working and what’s not working when you’re deep inside a story. Getting a fresh look from an outsider’s perspective can reveal the places where your script isn’t measuring up to your vision of what you want it to be.
At the same time, receiving feedback can feel fraught with emotional peril. You’ve poured hours into crafting this story, and notes that take it apart feel like they’ll take you apart too. The antidote is strengthening your feedback-receiving muscles. This is a skill you can grow into, and a critical one that will serve you for the entirety of your writing career.
Here are some ways to make receiving feedback less painful and more valuable.
Remember that the script exists outside you
Your screenplay is a work of creation that exists outside of you and is separate from you. It is not you. It has its own life in the world. Your job, as its creator, is to give it the best chance to succeed. When you hold your script as separate from you, you and anyone you receive notes from are automatically on the same side — objective evaluators reviewing the script — seeing how well it delivers on its premise and its promise.
I’m never a fan of comparing writing projects to children, but there’s a way in which that’s useful here: just as you would want your child to succeed, you want your script to succeed. Viewing your script objectively and as a separate entity allows you to take a big step back from taking feedback personally. Notes are an evaluation of how well a screenplay is doing, and if any course corrections need to be made.
Evaluate the evaluation
When you receive feedback, stand outside it and your script and evaluate the evaluation. Is this well-delivered, constructive feedback? Does it have merit and deserve further consideration? Does it draw your attention to weak spots you already knew were there but were hoping to avoid solving or uncertain how to solve? Does it point out what the script is doing well and isn’t doing well?
(Notice that the focus on what the script is doing well, not what you are doing well. Again, this is about the script, not about you.)
If the feedback isn’t valuable, you don’t have to use it. Feedback is a tool, not a referendum. It’s up to you, as the creator, to decide how to use it.
Sort the feedback you receive
Once you’ve initially read over the feedback you receive, it can help to take a few days away from it and let it settle. Your subconscious mind will be working through it and on it while you’re doing other things.
Then, when you’re ready, sort the notes. (Hat tip to Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU.com for teaching me this concept!)
You choose how you sort them, but a basic structure might be: Agree, Maybe, Disagree. You could tag them on a printout with stars or letters (A, M, D) or prioritize them with a numbering system, or copy them into a fresh document and reorder them by cutting and pasting into groups. The benefit of sorting notes is that it begins the process of integrating and implementing them, while also emphasizing your authority in the creation process by putting you in the driver’s seat.
Study the notes beneath the notes
For notes you disagree with or think are flat out incorrect, study them. What’s underneath the note you’re questioning or disputing?
As an example, I once received contest script notes that included a summary of what my story was about. It felt like the reviewer completely missed the point. At first annoyed, as I studied and reflected on the note, I came to understand that if my reader wasn’t getting the message, then the script wasn’t doing the job I thought it was doing. In other words, it wasn’t a personal failure on my part or on the part of the reviewer, but a lack of clarity in what my script was attempting to deliver. Ah ha! This meant that I could reconsider the script with unveiled eyes to look for how and where it could better illustrate the story I wanted to tell.
So when you get a note that doesn’t resonate or (hint, hint) pisses you off, dig a little deeper and see what you might unearth.
If, after excavating, you find nothing of value, put that note aside in the “don’t use” section and move along.
Remember your job description: screenwriter
At the end of the day, you are the final authority of what happens in this script. You are a screenwriter, not a secretary. It’s not your job to simply transcribe edits into a document, but to take the holistic view of story creation, understand the ripple effects of changes, and decide how to address them. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a new spec writer, you are the author of this screenplay, with a critical role to play in creating a story that truly works. So take any and all notes in stride, using them to your best advantage to help your script successfully deliver on your concept.
Your weekend writer’s assignment
Do you have script feedback coming in soon or have you just received notes? Take a step back and remind yourself that you’re the authority here, the decider of how and if you’ll use the notes you receive. Use the feedback as the tool it is, just one of many you’ll employ to make this script shine. Sort them and then decide how to tackle them, one by one.
You might also like:
6 Tips On Navigating Script Feedback — This article includes guidance on crafting a step-by-step critique plan so you don’t overwhelm yourself with feedback.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list