Feedback Part 4: Begin With What Works
By Jacob Krueger
All writers give and receive notes all the time. We give notes to our friends, our colleagues, our writing buddies, and most importantly to ourselves. We receive notes from producers, directors, teachers, agents, friends, family, and fellow writing students.
But how many of these notes actually help?
If you want to learn to give notes that actually help, both to yourself and to your fellow writers, there are two things that you absolutely must remember:
1) Don’t try to fix anything, just concentrate on sharing your experience.
2) Begin with what works.
When you begin your feedback with criticism, you can be pretty sure that the writer won’t hear a thing you say after your first sentence. Inside their heads, their own private monologue will take over, subjecting them to a level of criticism you wouldn’t bestow on your worst enemy.
If you start with the bad, they’ll never hear the good.
On the other hand, when you begin with what works, you help a writer to see the potential in their writing, and open the doors that make moving forward possible. At that point, the writer will follow you anywhere– and be able to process even your most brutally honest criticism in a way that is helpful and productive.
What Works In YOUR Writing?
Starting with what works is even more true when we give notes to ourselves. The truth is, if you’re a writer, the chances are that you don’t like at least 80% of what you write. So many writers subject themselves to horrible negative feedback, beating themselves up in ways that they would never treat another writer. They convince themselves that this is part of the hard work of a writer. There is nothing difficult about finding what DOESN’T work in a script. As writers, we can see that from a thousand miles away. The TRUE creative act is finding what actually does work, especially in a script that hasn’t yet come together.
When I say begin with what works, I’m not talking about false praise, extolling the lovely “flow” of the script, or pretending that you love things that you don’t even like. False praise can be as damaging as the worst criticism. And most likely, you’re not going to fool anyone anyway. If you’ve taken a class with me, you know we don’t go easy on anybody. What we do instead is to get as serious and specific in exploring what actually works in a script as normally we do about what doesn’t.
Digging For Gold
Writing is a lot like gold mining. To the untrained eye, gold in its raw form looks a lot like any other rock. It takes experience to learn how to recognize it, how to chip away the rough rock that surrounds it, and turn it into a form that displays its true value for everyone. As a writer, you have a similar job. Looking at the rough hewn rock of your first draft, and figuring out what’s gold, and what’s just slate.
Join The Community
If you’re looking for the kind of community that fosters your writing in this way, I invite you to check out one of my upcoming screenwriting classes, starting July 12th in NYC.
Check out the final installment of the feedback series: “How To Talk About The Bad Stuff.”