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Lessons in Criticism

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Cat DoughtyCriticism. Every artist knows the beast. Some fear it, some avoid it, some crave it. I’m one of those masochistic souls that fall into that last category. As a writer, I’m my own worst enemy— a perfectionist. It’s one of the reasons I work so often with partners.  I like to think of it as perfectionist rehab, but that’s another post.  As a student of art and theatre and an aspiring writer, I’ve learned to love critique. It’s a marker. It helps me get out of my own head and really figure out what is working and what isn’t. That said— criticism is a bitch! Bare your naked soul in front of the world and have the flaws pointed out? There’s not generally a line for that. Except apparently there is: Hollywood. 😉  So, since we love this crazy business, here are some ways to make nice with criticism.

Separate yourself

This is hard.  Artists pour so much of themselves into their work, sometimes it makes a critique feel like an attack. First, remember that you asked for it. Second, the only way to get better is to hear what isn’t working and improve upon it. Art is connection. It’s communication. If someone doesn’t “get it” it’s because there’s a communication gap. They don’t hate you. They don’t hate the point you’re making, they just don’t know what the point you’re making is; your job is to fix that.  So stop taking it personally and get to work! J

Listen

…to what your critic is saying, but also to what they’re not saying. Maybe they suggest you fix a scene by adding explosions or having the protagonist do XYZ or changing the hero’s sex. Here’s the thing. Not everyone is a writer and not everyone is going to have a good idea on how to solve the problems in your script. But if people are repeatedly pointing to the same scene and giving you advice, the takeaway for you is not how to solve it, but that there is something to be solved. The trick is to be able to sort through the noise and focus in on the actual problem. Maybe that “problem” scene isn’t the problem at all, maybe it’s something you need to fix in the 2nd act. Learn to listen for the broader themes, not just the specific advice.

Be Grateful

Someone took the time to look at your work, think about it and give you feedback. That’s valuable. Thank them for it. If they’re artists, be willing to repay the favor.  And when you do repay the favor – do it right. Be kind but be honest. It’s hard to tell someone that their favorite scene with all the witty banter is totally unnecessary for the story, but if that’s what they need to hear, tell them. They’re trying to be better artists; they deserve to hear the truth.

Cat Doughty

About Cat Doughty

Cat Doughty has a BFA in Art and Technical Theatre from Whitworth University. After moving to New Mexico in 2007, Cat joined a group of passionate independent filmmakers called Black Shepherd Productions. As part of the Black Shepherd team, Cat has been a writer, a producer and nearly everything in between. Since finishing co-writing and producing the webseries “Flock” with Black Shepherd she is currently focusing on developing new screenplays so she can keep making indie projects!