July 13, 2010

Feedback: Friend or Foe?

Last night I hosted a reading of a new and very funny screenplay in my living room. I love being surrounded by talent - actors, writers and comics - and it's wonderful to see a writer's growth on the page, when a draft has actually changed and has gotten better as a result of those changes. I've always believed that rewriting reveals a writer's true talent - do you have the bravery to "kill your babies" and to completely overhaul those first instinctive raw words? Are you able to retain the original intention in the process?

After the reading, a few people stayed behind to offer the writer feedback and it got me thinking about this component of creativity - the "notes sessions" that are part of the creative process. Certainly, we can lose sight of our own work while in the midst of it - we often speak about being "too close" to the material or feeling overwhelmed by the size of the task. Maybe the changes we're making seem to be unraveling every line, the paints we've chosen to "correct" have now "ruined" the original vision or an actor is "grasping" in the middle of a limited rehearsal schedule.

There is that moment, in the middle, when it seems we will never reach the end. It is often when we are feeling the most lost that we reach out and ask for help, ask for notes, ask for feedback -- I'm starting to think that is THE WORST time to ask. The work itself is fragile and the artist behind the work needs nothing but love and passion and support to keep going. If we aren't very careful as artists, we may hear words that STOP our creativity rather than SUPPORT it.

How can you keep this from happening?


If you need to hear something read, work with actors you trust and know. If the song isn't working, schedule a meeting with your mentor. If you're just about to throw the painting through a window, take a breath and track down an old classmate to talk shop.

If you can't handpick the people, is it possible to meet with a cheerleader in advance to boost your confidence? Or perhaps, you can visualize the meeting/notes session in advance and come up with a plan about how you can handle yourself if the going gets tough - ask for a glass of water or step out for a bathroom break to stop the flow if you're feeling overwhelmed.


Limit your audience to three questions you want answered during the feedback session. Write those questions down and have them in front of you. Give each person a limited period of time in which to answer those questions. When the time is up, it's up.

In industry situations, this may not be possible but have you tried? Some wonderful ways I've heard of artists dealing with executive notes sessions is to A. request written notes in advance of the meeting, B. to take a tape recorder to the meeting or C. to request that the notes sessions be broken into "acts" so that there is more frequent feedback but the information becomes very specific.


Don't ask what is wrong with your piece - ask what works, what moved people, what stuck out as really interesting, what they liked, what draws their eye, what makes them feel. Focus on ways in which those positive aspects can be enhanced.

As they say in the South - you catch more bears with honey...if you know what people love about your work, you'll focus on your strengths and hey, you may even be more motivated to finish!

Last night's screenplay had already been through numerous drafts and the writer was seeking very specific information from her audience. Her readers had read several drafts and were able to reference the changes and speak about the script with the full history of the project in mind. The tone was helpful and friendly and the notes were uber-specific.

But I've certainly witnessed NIGHTMARE situations with other creative projects where an artist is nearly being attacked by a well-meaning friend who actually harbors quiet jealousy or even worse, given notes by a room full of strangers who have no concept of an artists entire body of work and how this piece relates.

Maybe your piece is in an earlier state and needs more protection. Maybe it's ready to be seen and you're feeling super confident. Either way, the most important element is your own awareness of what you NEED from the feedback in order to continue the work.

Before you open yourself to feedback, listen to your gut then choose the format and venue and way that you WANT to receive your notes. We are only at the mercy of others if we allow ourselves to be.

How do you handle feedback?

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