We all have them. Those horror stories. The daggers stabbing at us, zombies chasing us, those freaky clowns riding that squeaky tricycle around and around in center ring of the circus in our mind. Whatever form they take, if you write long enough, they will be there. What I am talking about here, of course, are your critics. Those feedback givers and darling slayers who, in their own special way, are just trying to help. Yeah, right.
We all know it, if we are honest, we need feedback. It’s great when Mom, Dad, best friend, or spouse tells you that they love your work. But is that really making it better? But, reaching outside of your close tight knit circle, now that can be scary.
For me, as a screenwriter, feedback is essential. When you are one of 100 everywhere you go, your finished product better be the absolute best it can be. And that means asking others what they think. They have to read it. They have to “get” it. And, yes, they have to like it. But this phenomenon isn’t unique to screenwriting. Every writer needs feedback to bring their work to the best level that it can possibly be. And isn’t that really what all of us want? We certainly don’t know everything there is to know about writing. No one ever will this side of heaven. So how do we make the most of what we need to do?
As a critique group leader, a film company reader, a writing contest coach, and a film festival judge, I’ve given a lot of feedback. But I started out, believe it or not, by getting feedback, much of it from the same places where I now return the “favor”. And I’ve had my horror stories: The writing coach that just couldn’t be satisfied, the movie company that obviously didn’t bother to read past the first pages. Even now, I still seek feedback on everything I write (even this will be read by others before I submit it) I like to think that my past experiences make me more compassionate and supportive to those whom I am reviewing, but that doesn’t exempt me from needing to continuously improve my own writing. And the only way to do that is to write and to get feedback.
So what do we do? How do we handle that clown making that awful squeaky racket? You can go on the defense and chase them down with a can of WD-40. But that usually only makes them pedal faster and , if you do catch them, you don’t get anything out of it but a quiet clown riding around in circles. Defense tends to beget defense and in the end will probably quiet your critic, forever.
You could take your manuscript and go home, never visiting that circus again. Again, you yourself have remained unscathed, your manuscript is intact, but it also isn’t any better. Sometimes this is justified if the reviewer just isn’t doing their job. But look at it objectively. Did they really put the time in to read your work and give you thoughts that they think can make it better. If that is the case, it is best to listen, squeaky wheel or not.
Option three would be to engage this tricycle rider as an equal. No I’m not saying you should jump into the middle of the room and start acting goofy. Recognize them for what they are – someone trying to help. Have a conversation. Hold them accountable. Critical feedback should always be positive and should help you make your work better. If you are not seeing it that way, ask them to explain. They saw something there that you didn’t see. If they are being too negative, ask them what they liked. A critique should be a two way street. And whatever you do, don’t ever take it personally. As much as we love our little darlings as if they were our children, they aren’t and that’s not what this is about.
Writing is a process. Feedback is just one part of that process. Make it great. Be creative. Be Bold. Don’t be afraid.