No matter if you’re a beginning writer or have several years and numerous scripts under your belt, you have the potential in you to be That Guy.
Say somebody makes a critical comment about your script that you don’t agree with. It could be a teacher, someone in a workshopping group, or (if the fates favor you) a creative executive.
If you have the urge to say any of the following, don’t.
- You read it wrong.
- That’s not what I meant.
- But I’m not trying to do (X)
- That’s not how I see it.
There are plenty of reasons to not respond to criticism with antagonistic and defensive posturing, but it all boils down to one thing: If you don’t respond well to criticism, people will believe you are difficult to work with.
But what happens if you can’t help yourself? If you’re absolutely certain, in that moment, that what they’ve said is completely off base and they have no idea how good your script actually is? That this person claiming to want to help you is actually trying to do damage to your masterpiece?
1. Appreciate that somebody read your writing
It is more likely that someone who is willing to take the time to read what you’ve written and provide you with constructive feedback is genuinely interested in helping you make it the best it can be than that they are trying to sabotage or dishearten you. They could be doing other things, but they believe that it’s worth their time to work with you.
They’ve given time to consider your work, and you should be willing to respond in kind by taking time to genuinely consider their comments.
2. Believe that you are not your script
Even in situations where you think that criticism is personal, you can not respond to it as such. An imperfect script does not mean you are a bad writer. It simply means that you have yet to find the best way to get across the story you’re trying to tell. Any critical comment that is made is being made about a single, changeable document that exists outside of yourself.
Also, much like how you are not your script, your idea is not your script. If you believe something is in the pages that other people aren’t seeing, you must be willing to accept that something may have not made the transition from your mind to the page. Things can get lost in transit, and the only way to ensure that everything reaches its destination properly is to pay attention when people say something is missing.
3. Remember that you aren’t going to have all the good ideas.
This isn’t to try and dismantle your confidence or to suggest that you don’t have a dozen brilliant notions before breakfast every day, but you need to accept that someone other than you might have a perfectly logical suggestion for something you’re working on.
Unless you are directly plagiarizing, there is nothing wrong with finding a way to incorporate ideas that didn’t originate inside your brain into your work. Consider, in fact, that none of the ideas you have are completely original to your mind, because they all come as a response to the stimuli you process from the world around you. Every idea has an origin outside yourself, so it’s not too much of a stretch to then accept that another person might be able to have an applicable and helpful idea to contribute to your script.
4. Look for the note behind the note
Sometimes it’s not easy to articulate what’s not working. Sometimes smaller symptoms get the attention when a larger problem is lurking beneath the surface. That’s when you need to see what’s underlying the criticism.
It’s a two-way street: If you make a knee-jerk defensive response to a comment that doesn’t quite get to the root of the problem, neither you nor the person who read your script are getting any closer to finding a way to make it better. Absorb the comments. Digest them. Ask questions. Come back later and look over what’s been said and try to determine what the underlying points actually are.
In summary: Be grateful. Be humble. Be open to ideas. If you already think your script is perfect, you will miss countless ways you can make it better.