Writing is a powerful way to communicate with others and many writers will likely tell you that communicating one’s ideas onto the page is rarely an easy task. So, often times when a writer does create a piece of writing, it can be difficult to hear what others have to say about it.
Critical feedback can come from a variety of sources – employers, superiors, co-workers, qualified professionals you pay to critique your work, family, friends– and it can be a difficult pill to swallow when getting it, especially if the feedback critiques something you’re particularly attached to.
But oh, how important it is to get that feedback.
I’ve worked as a freelance story analyst for the past ten years, which means I read and analyze scripts and books for writers and production companies, so I am fully aware of development feedback. When it would come to my own work though, I never wanted to hear it. I had even placed this famous quote by E.B. White onto my computer as a reminder:
Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.
I still have that powerful quote right by my side, except now, I’ve come to look at it a bit differently. Allow me to explain.
A screenplay I co-wrote is the story that is to be my feature directorial debut. I have been working on this script for quite some time while I wrote and directed several short films. In hopes of it getting some attention to aid in raising the capital needed for production, I sent the script out to several screenplay festivals and labs. Very few of these typically send complimentary feedback but one of the contests recently did.
My initial reaction was to defend my work. The script was recently named a Finalist in the 2015 Scriptapalooza Screenplay Contest and I didn’t think it needed any more work done. But after I calmed down my inner diva, I read the notes again. Whoever read the script and composed the notes had made an observation critiquing one of my characters and his situation. It was a situation I had struggled with and thought I had figured out… until I received these notes. Something was suggested and it got me thinking about what was really missing and why that character’s arc wasn’t as effective as I needed it to be for the story as a whole. The notes given to me were not all perfect and some I did toss aside but one of them was able to verbalize something that I didn’t see and after I thought about these comments, I realized what was missing. And that’s when the importance of critical feedback hit me.
Critical feedback makes you think.
While feedback can come from anyone with an opinion, it can be an indispensible tool for a writer. It not only provides a way for one to gauge how others will take and understand your work but it also provides a fresh perspective.
But you have to be open to it.
I think the hardest part in accepting feedback as a writer is to let go of your ego to be open-minded to the feedback.
Once you open yourself to it, you put yourself in a powerful position. If you are creating something for an audience, why not get feedback from that audience as you create it? You can do what you want with the feedback, but by being open-minded to it you allow yourself the opportunity to see your work from an outsider’s point of view and that can help tremendously when trying to figure something out or it can simply make you aware of something you weren’t before, more often than not because you’re too immersed in it.
Writers can get tunnel vision and critical feedback can take you out of it.
E.B. White’s quote is more important to me now than ever before but I understand it differently. While I believe one writes to please the story they are telling, if an audience is desired, perhaps it is wise to stay true to that by being open to listen to what other’s have to say about it. If you end up disagreeing, feedback has the ability to make you have to explain why and fight for it. And if you can’t, well then… that feedback just shed light on something you needed it to.