Many writers insist feedback is vital and always valuable. They believe the key to progressing via feedback, which can often be negative, is to grow a thick skin. I think this is some of the most damaging advice a new writer can be given. This is a worker bee mentality. This is more often than not a case of trying to please everybody to advance. Artists aren’t worker bees and great artists don’t try to please anybody but themselves. Yes, that does sound a little arrogant, but personal fulfilment is so critical to our well-being it should never be ignored. Just because Hollywood often operates like a sausage factory does not mean we all have to become sausage makers. We have to constantly ask ourselves “is this making me happy?” because if it isn’t, what’s the point in doing it? Again, some people would say that’s selfish, but it really isn’t, it’s about loving our work and loving ourselves – or at least trying to because art that derives from passion is always the most valuable art out there.
Here’s the thing, and I’m not going to make many friends by writing this, the vast majority of people in the average writer’s world are in no position to give constructive feedback. Storytelling is an incredibly complex form of art and doing so via the medium of filmmaking is even more so. Throw the business world into the equation and we may as well be talking about quantum physics. If the adage “nobody knows anything” applies to the top of the entertainment world food chain then it certainly applies for those of us at the bottom. For many of us, the people we have access to, particularly in those early days, are no more equipped to feedback on the craft of screenplay writing than they are to feedback on the craft of cinematography, music composition, or set design. Being an avid reader is not enough, being a prolific writer is not enough, nor is being a grad school teacher, an English major, or studio intern. Hell, working as a prodco script reader isn’t enough. What is enough? It’s more often than not a case of relativity. We need feedback from those who are a step higher on the mountain, those who have trodden the same path as us who can point out where we need to find our next foothold. And what’s more, that person needs to be the right person, the person that can appreciate our values and respect our destiny even if they are wildly different to theirs. If we can’t find that, then there is no point in fielding the opinions and nonsense that spew from so many others.
“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” – Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution
Beware trolls who use feedback to knock others down, question the integrity of self-titled consultants, and be cautious of paid readers. Take that energy and put it into finding actual working/credited writers and embracing what they have to say.
Bad Reader Feedback
- Is mostly or entirely subjective.
- Is written as to publicly ridicule.
- Is written with a tone as to scold or hurt.
- Focuses on superficial elements such as formatting and typos.
- Stems from a different political view.
- Comes from a position of angst toward writers and/or the industry.
- Comes from a person with zero industry standing or a writer with no validation of ability.
- Uses the opening pages to judge the script in its entirety.
- Isn’t aligned with our artistic or commercial goal(s).
- Comes from a person who openly dislikes the premise, genre, and/or tone.
Good Reader Feedback
- Puts aside personal taste as to give an objective analysis.
- Motivates further development by pointing out the positives.
- Motivates further development by making improvement suggestions.
- Educates by explaining the craft.
- Focuses on the art of storytelling, character development, and scene writing.
- Comes from a place of love and admiration for what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go.
The Best Feedback You’ll Ever Get
There’s one critic out there who we all need to satisfy, one critic who never holds back on their true opinion, hounds us with their reasoning, and always shares our values – this is of course ourselves. I really feel there can never be enough value given to one’s own opinion yet we are often all too willing to second guess ourselves in favour of complete strangers. We have to respect our inner discourse, we have to pay attention to our subconscious, because when all’s said and done, be it resulting in outstanding success or painful failure, it’s that voice that we will eventually have to listen to when we try to sleep at night.
What’s important is continually consuming as much wisdom as we can from those who’ve walked before us and, combining that with reflection and practice, becoming highly astute to what does and doesn’t work and why. After all, we want to be seen as experts on the subject we love so it only makes sense to aim for that if we want to be seen as valuable.