“Feedback is a rite of passage” by Scriptcat

When you finish your precious screenplay you’re eager to receive feedback and this can be a vulnerable time for you and the script. This is why you never want to give out your script for a read before it’s ready—only when you’re confident it’s the best draft you can possibly write and you feel that you’re “written out.”  Feedback is an important part of any screenwriter’s growth on their journey, but make sure you don’t set your expectations too high and then become disappointed when you don’t receive the praise you expected.  I think Hemingway said it best:

 

All you need to do is write truly and not care what the fate of it is.

I think too many aspiring screenwriters write new scripts and suffer under their self-imposed pressure of having to sell it. What are the odds? Astronomical. The safer bet is writing a new script for the sake of telling a story that you need to tell and making sure it’s the best example of your ability. Many times something does not sell but garners you meetings and eventually screenwriting assignment jobs—the bread and butter of working writers.

Many new screenwriters don’t take feedback well or don’t know how to execute the notes that are given.  As they say, “everyone has an opinion” and that’s true, but you need to be able to filter the good feedback from the bad and be open enough to use the good notes and push your screenplay closer to a better draft.

When you’re finally working at a professional level, you’ll need to be a team player and not a diva when it comes to feedback.  Screenwriting is all about the execution of the script and as you continue to write new material you will need to execute your ideas on a professional level. This is necessary to compete in a very crowded and competitive marketplace.

Be careful when open yourself up to feedback and set your expectations too high. We all have expectations after we complete a script.  You know the creative high that you felt during writing and now you might be coming off that high as you turn in your draft and await feedback.  Did you get notes and they are not exactly what you expected?  Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough?  Maybe they felt your execution was off?  Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head about your lack of ability?  You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago.  You are not alone my fellow screenwriters.

We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” when we finish a screenplay. Most of the time, the pat on the back will come from you alone.  Writing the script is one thing, turning it into your producer and waiting for feedback is entirely another.  It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism.

If you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance of feedback, as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy.  Notes and changes are a given with a screenplay.  Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that screenwriting is all about rewriting. Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  Do not hang on every word or sentence.  You’re not alone.  A writer’s life is a tough job at best.

As screenwriters we must stay open to constructive criticism because screenwriting is all about collaboration.  We will always receive notes because a script is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie.  Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project.  These fellow artisans will bring it to an entirely new level of creativity.

You can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel if the process gets dragged down by so many changes. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script.   Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but also the talent it will eventually attract.

Along with the successes, I’ve had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career from feedback, but I continue to love the craft of screenwriting.  I’ve been able to view the entire process from a larger perspective and focus on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape as a team player.

If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job.  You go to work, write all day, go home, come back tomorrow and wash, rinse and repeat.  Screenwriters have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script.

Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart.  Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes.

Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside.  Everyone is here to serve the story to the best of their creative ability.  If you want to play with the big boys, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up.  It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.

Part of the deal is that you want people to read and love your material, right?  If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you.  A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded.

I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.”  That’s fine.  But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second.  Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment.  One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four is not.

Be open to the entire process of writing — the feedback, rewrites and all.  No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project.  There will always be creative highs and lows.

Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes. Avoid this at all costs. A good discipline to follow for the long haul of a screenwriter’s survival is Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s advice:

Act without expectation.

Also be patient.  A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ!

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Mark Sanderson (aka @Scriptcat) is a Los Angeles based veteran of the screenwriting game with over fifteen years of professional experience and has worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy® and Golden Globe® acting nominees on his produced films and screenwriting assignments.  Mark’s films have been recognized and distributed around the world and have opened and premiered at major festivals.
His popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE was Script Magazine’s pick for “Website of the Week” and had over 50,000 reads last year.  He also offers screenplay consultation services and workshops on his website:
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