Feedback is what I dread receiving and dread giving but I keep on asking for it and saying “yes” when someone asks me.
Anyone who doesn’t write won’t understand that gut wrenching, stomach falling, palpitation inducing moment when you realise your next draft isn’t going to be a few tweaks away from winning the Booker Prize or grabbing you an Oscar. Instead you’ll be back at square one or at least that’s what your self-defense mechanism is telling you – well it would do, that’s its job – to stop you from getting hurt by sitting back down at the computer and starting again and failing again. Your self-defense mechanism doesn’t want you to get hurt so it tells you success is so far away, you’ll never get there. Why not give up now? But who’s in charge here and why did you ask for feedback in the first place? Hopefully because you wanted to get better at this thing you’re driven to do every day and get withdrawal symptoms when you can’t. However, in that complicated cocktail of desperation, insecurity and expectation we call our egos, we’ll be satisfied with nothing less than praise and success.
If you want to avoid the mistake I made the first time I asked for feedback, don’t tell that person the story of your script. It’s what I did when I asked my husband to read my first screenplay. I steeled myself for what I knew would be fair, accurate, analytical criticism and received a puzzled response. “Are you sure you’ve given me the right script? ” He was looking for everything the natural storyteller in me thought was on the page, but wasn’t there at all. When you read your own work, you ‘re seeing the characters as you created them moving in that fabulous world that exists somewhere in your head. Don’t tell anyone your story if you want feed back from them. Their job is to tell you what they’ve read, which is how you’re going to work out how to make your script better. If they don’t understand anything, they should be asking you questions. It may well be the brilliant sub plot that’s overshadowing the main plot or that subtle reference to a key part of the story that’s so subtle, no-one notices it.
It helps if the unfortunate friend, colleague or acquaintance you’ve picked on, has some knowledge of the accepted structure and format of the genre you’ve given them. It’s vital that they should ask questions like “Whose story is it?”; “Who’s the intended audience?” or even if it’s a film script, “What size budget did you have in mind?” ; because if they can’t or don’t, then the feedback they’re giving you is unlikely to be helpful. And if you don’t know the answers, then you’ve learnt something very useful straight away.
Even if you pay for your feedback, buyer beware, check out the C.V.s of the professionals giving it and try to find someone who has experience of the genre in which you’re writing. It’s not unknown for professional script readers to give contradictory advice but if more than one person is telling you that something isn’t working, you should be looking at it with an objective eye. However, if there’s one lone voice criticising something that your gut feeling tells you is right, go with your gut. You haven’t the experience to do anything else at that moment and it was your gut that likely gave you the inspiration in the first place.
People will tell you that the first draft is always “s**t” – which isn’t exactly fair and does nothing for the self-esteem of the writer or any artist for that matter. Remember you’re the person who started with the blank page; the one who burnt the midnight oil; who ran into imaginary brick walls and had eureka moments in unlikely places like the supermarket queue and then lost your flash of inspiration scrawled on the back of the weekly shopping list in a windy car park. You’ve sacrificed a great deal to come this far so read the feedback, decide what you believe and start the next draft. And forget the Booker and the Oscar – they’re just prizes that people receive. Far more valuable is the one within your own gift – to produce the best writing you can.