Getting notes is as appealing to most writers as getting a pap smear is to most women. Yes, it’s necessary, but you just wished it wasn’t so awkward and uncomfortable. I mean, is it too much to ask to have the speculum not be ice cold?!
But just like this rite of womanhood is inevitable, getting feedback on your work is often the only way to ensure a healthy outcome. So before you consider committing seppuku to avoid getting notes, here are four Zen ways to help make the process less anxiety-ridden and more comfortable.
1. Consider The Source
Before you ask someone to read your work, first ask yourself, “are they the right person?” For instance, you wouldn’t ask a drama writer to review your comedy and vice versa. If we take it a step further, even if they are comedy, is their background in multi-cam, single cam or dramedy? You see, multi-cam tv comedies require, on average, a joke on every other line. While single-came requires, at least, three jokes per page. So if you hand over your dramedy to a multi-cam experienced person, expect to be told that you need more jokes. Which is all well and good, but that’s not exactly the kind of feedback that is going to help you.
Recently, I had the misfortune to make this very mistake. I did a table read and received very baffling notes. At first, I really doubted my ability to even nail the basic structure of a script. But after talking with some supportive friends for a few hours, I realized that I’d received feedback from someone who was well versed in drama, not comedy. So my free-wheeling, at last three jokes per page were really throwing them off and the notes I was given were completely unhelpful – one of the actual notes was – “there are way too many jokes!” I know, right?
So, after a few days of “comfort eating” my way through the Shake Shack menu, I reached out and got notes from a writer who had actually worked in single-camera comedies. The feedback was more focused, clear and the complete opposite of the notes I’d received from the drama person. This step can be tricky for newer writers because, frankly, they may not have enough people with any experience around them. If that’s the case, send it out to who you can but just be mindful that any person’s feedback or notes is coming from their own personal experience. Just remember, don’t go to a hardware store to buy milk. If you do, you’ll leave feeling confused and frustrated every time.
2. Let It Sink In
So you’ve gotten your notes. Now, almost every new writer’s tendency is to reject any notes that may not be echoing their own thoughts about their work. The desire to push back is very strong. But like a supermodel eyeing that plate of celery before a runway show, I encourage you to resist it. You don’t want to risk getting unfocused. They’ll be plenty of time to gorge later.
The best course is to take a few days – maybe even a week – to let it just sink in. Sometimes, a note that seems to be way out of left field can reveal itself to be a source of inspiration. Unless you’re on a tight deadline, this step should not be rushed. During this time, try and go through each suggestion and work it out in your mind. Is your script made more interesting? More provocative? Or just leading you down the garden path? Even it that’s true, considering a note, mentally implementing it and then moving on will only deepen your resolve to what is working.
3. Find The Pearls
If the previous step reveals a new path, feel free explore it. You will find that it can only open you up to solutions and ideas that would never have occurred to you otherwise. Besides, that maybe where the pearls will start to appear.
The more I write, the more I realize that collaboration is really the promised land. Most of us are not Aaron Sorkin or Shonda Rhimes – islands unto themselves. We need the input and inspiration of others. After all, if we’re lucky, most tv writers end up in a writers’ room. Creators figured out long time ago that six heads is always better than one. Can you imagine trying to write the new Netflix show, “Stranger Things” all by yourself? Hell, I can barely write a tweet by myself, so my answer is an “elongated-black-woman-shaking-her-head-hell nah!!!”
And neither can most show runners. That’s why they have hired a group of people to come together with ideas, sift through them and come out with the best ones. A single writer, however, has to figure these things on their own. In absence of a team, asking for feedback and getting notes from multiple people, a writer is essentially creating their own personal writers’ room. And just like in a room, if an idea has some “pearl of truth,” sift through it and really think about how it will add or subtract from your work.
4. Dive In
Once you’ve let it sink in, create a duplicate of the current script and dive in with the ideas that you’d like to try. As you try to implement them, the duds will be apparent quickly and the gems will reveal be undeniable. This step should be fun because here is where the original idea will be polished and, hopefully, “shine bright like a diamond.” Happy writing!