Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dealing with negative feedback

We all get negative feedback. Everyone. If you don't, you're simply not sending your work to the right people. Naturally, we all want constructive criticism, stuff we can learn from. "It's shit" doesn't really help us. But "it's shit, because your hero is entirely inactive" is brilliant criticism that helps you.

It's never fun getting bad comments about your work. We can all be way too protective at times and it affects us all in different ways. Let's say you send off a 60-page script. You've sent it off because you think it's pretty good. But the feedback you get tears it to shreds. Mercilessly! How do you feel?

I like to think I can take criticism well. I accept that it's not Shakespeare (and even he wasn't Homer!) so I'm capable of accepting that it can be made better. However, I go through three thoughts when I get bad feedback, whether it's from a director, a competition, or a fellow writer who's just read a very early draft as a favour:


These three things come and go very quickly. 

Annoyance because I was hoping for nothing short of an essay on its brilliance.

Anger because I always ask "what do you know?!" Of course, this is anger at myself, my own annoyance.

Despair because I can see how much work I still have to do.

But despite all this anger etc, I tend to take it quite well. If you're not getting angry when someone says your work is crap, then there's something wrong with you. You get angry because you care.

I have a great situation with the lovely Miss Michelle. We send each other a lot of work, usually in the very early stages. And we're merciless. We don't bother with formal niceties; that it's remotely decent is now taken for granted. What we focus on is the shit stuff, because that's what's useful. We're entirely and absolutely honest about what we think of each other's work. Of course, if I think something is working really well, I'll say so, since I don't want her to go and change it in order to fix something else. 

But if Michelle sends me something that's horrendous, I'll tell her. Likewise, she'll tell me when I'm ripping off Supernatural (seems to be happening more and more these days.....)

The key thing we do, however, is offer solutions. For example, Michelle came to me with a script that she thought lacked a bit of tension and pacing. I sent her a long long email with possible solutions. No good me saying "yes, I agree". Much better to say that, then try and help. 

Likewise, I sent Michelle a treatment of mine, my concern being that it just wasn't long enough for a 60 minute drama. But I didn't know why. Michelle pulled me up on a bunch of stuff - poor exposition, unbelievable character developments, actions, motivations etc. And through those criticisms, I was able to expand the entire thing.

So the key thing is to take something away from the criticism. Get some possible solutions to problems. And that's the other thing - possible solutions. You don't have to agree with everything that's said. I play devil's advocate when I critique stuff, throw as much criticism as I possibly can. I don't expect them to take everything I say and agree with it. Sometimes your gut is the right way to go. If you really think a piece of criticism is wrong, ignore it. Better yet, get 5 other opinions and see if it comes up again.

So don't be afraid of criticism, deal with it - it's a big part of writing (possibly the biggest). On that note, if anyone wants any criticism of their work, do contact me. I assure you - no bullshit. Just anger-inducing criticism.

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