• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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The First Cut Is The Deepest

The Hose and I sent out our script to two more readers for notes and they were excellent. One had the forest in mind, forcing us to take a closer look at our main character.The second reader saw the trees. Like a dowser, he picked up every piece of dialogue that was off, every bit of illogic, and stuff that simply could and should be better. He also, without knowing who had written which sections, praised all of the Hose’s writing, while mine were meh.

Hey, I’m a professional. I can take it (up the ass). Look, great feedback, even good feedback, is very difficult to come by. I’m grateful for it, inspired by it. Do I also have script-fatigue? Yes. Get over it. Don’t seek and use feedback at your own peril. Do you believe the truism that the comments you hate the most are probably the most useful? Kill your darlings, blah, blah, blah? How do you handle feedback?

52 Responses

  1. like a professional. there’s always something that needs improving and i simply cannot believe it when writers get defensive. i thank god for my reader, i do.

    the professional editing i’ve received, thus far, was exceptional.

  2. Denial, anger, threats to quit writing, then some stabby attempts to make tiny changes to satisfy criticism, then finally, acceptance and rewriting, tail between legs.

    • Just wanted to add: this is all 100% internal. On the outside, I’m calm and receptive. I’ve found that sitting on one’s hands during critique can be helpful. It’s a physical cue to the body to remind the mouth to clamp it for a few minutes.

  3. I agree with rea that there’s always something that needs improving, but I’d be lying seven ways to Sunday if I claimed I never felt a twinge of something (defensiveness, resentment, etc) on occasion. But I’ve gotten to the point where I get over it super fast.

  4. I can’t cope with people who can’t take feedback well. Stop being a baby already!

  5. No. The comments I hate most are fucking stupid.

    An editor once queried ‘bowling shoes’ because she ‘wasn’t familiar with the phrase.’

  6. I used to wince every time I got an unfavorable comment (years ago), but now you could blowtorch me and I’d barely blink.

  7. Feedback is probably best seen as a spork: offering spoonfuls of helpful hints amid the sharp points of tough talk. But the director who is considering my monologue is kind – he files down the sharp points so that I willingly take the stab! I’m “only” on my fourth rewrite, but remain focused and determined.

  8. The whole point is to get objective feedback. I make the final decision but generally, the comments help me see something I missed completely.

  9. When the stupid stuff is about the trees I change it. Off base criticism of the forest is another level entirely and deserves some stewing before action.

  10. I feel differently when the feedback is for fiction vs. nonfiction. Fiction critique is like, “This babydoll is kind of ugly, needs work.” Nonfiction feels more like, “Your real baby is the ugliest damned baby I’ve ever seen!”

    Days later, the result is the same though: improved manuscript = thankful writer.

    • Really? Fiction criticism is easier? I don’t write fiction, but I’ve always thought that fiction writers were much, much more protective of their stuff than non-fiction writers. Because with non-fiction the writer only has to make sense of a universe that already exists (so criticism on the writing is only strategic, structural) while with fiction, a writer has to create a whole universe (so critcism on the writing is conceptual, and that = criticism of the writer).

      I don’t take critcism personally. But then, I also don’t equate my writing with babies.

  11. I tend to capitulate immediately to someone’s criticism/suggestions. I just make the changes like I’m a dimwit and from then on out write with that in mind. After I can brood/stew/process, I may end up disagreeing with the feedback but the exercise is always worth it because I’m in a different (read: improved) place from where I started.

    • I think this shows great humility! Some of my friends who are the least confident in their writing are the most enjoyable to give feedback to — because they are so open.

  12. Some feedback needs to be set aside to simmer, while some of it is head-slappingly (yes, it’s a word and fun to say) obvious.

    But I always thank people for their insights, because there’s always something to learn—even if the lesson is that I should have been more specific about the kind of feedback I needed.

  13. The criticisms I hate the most are the picky grammar ones from people who don’t know grammar. If someone doesn’t know the word “adverb,” thinks all adverbs end in “ly”, or refers to all constructions using the past tense of the verb “to be” as “passive,” I’m just annoyed.

    • I only wish I had paid more attention during grammar class. Couldn’t tell you an adverb from an adjective, a prepositional phrase from a dangling participle. I’m in deep doo-doo if an editor ever starts throwing any grammar stuff at me. It would be worse than a foreign language.

  14. Depends on who is giving the feedback.

    I sat through a creative writing class, and it was vying for its own circle of hell. Someone would say “Show don’t tell!” and they’d go around repeating it mindlessly regardless of if it even applied to the specific writing at hand. “Don’t use dialogue tags.” “Don’t use adverbs.” “Know the rules before you break them.” Cliche, cliche, cliche.

    It felt like being on a game show where you had just as high a likelihood of guessing a penny over as a penny under.

    The rules are there for a reason, yes. Many things strengthen prose. But someone telling me I shouldn’t use adverbs carries weight. Telling me that adverbs have no place in the world, is a religion. I suppose it’s the herd mentality.

    I cherish thoughtful responses, whether I agree or not, there is usually a problem even if the wrong one is diagnosed.

    • Thoughtful responses–perfect. If something makes sense, I sit back and say, why didn’t I think of that? The nit picky stuff, people just looking for something so they can hear themselves talk, no.

    • I’ve encountered the ‘mob mentality’ feedback in groups as well, not only in creative writing but in my back-in-the-day corporate life. It’s invariably destructive. Even if the feedback starts as being, as Lyra puts it, thoughtful responses, by the time it’s hammered on and repeated almost gleefully, any thing that might have been useful has been burned away.

      I don’t take criticism as well as I should, though I’m getting better. My problem is in separating myself from my work. Outwardly, I can act professionally, thank god, but inside, I’m flinging myself across my bed and sobbing into my lace-edged heart pillow.

  15. Just returned from workshop at the warehouse-like gallery. My work wasn’t on the table, but there were 9 of us wielding our daggers tonight, which is all of us. And we all have our opinions. We went through our usual 4 bottles of wine. Exchanged the pharmies. By the time the last reader read we were wrung out. Exhausted.

    But here’s the thing. We, all of us, work really, really hard with our Sharpies. We’re assholes when we must be. We praise when the work deserves it. We have to talk over a very loud heater-fan. Sometimes someone in the studio room next door is clanking metal objects and firing up a blow torch.

    We’re going on (some of us) 20 years, and between us we’ve produced best-sellers, literary cult sleepers, small books, big books, thrillers, memoirs and yellowing pages that sit stacked in Tupperware tubs.

    Even those nights that I sneak into the cold, concrete bathroom after my pages are eviscerated, and I stay there until the puff and red leaves my eyes, it’s the highlight of my week.

    • That sounds like absolute heaven. Seriously. Um…exchanged the pharmies? Do you guys have a Xanax/Klonopin/Ativan grab bag at the start of every meeting? Sigh. Now you’re just showing off.

      • Nothing too terribly fancy pharmie-wise. Our afflictions are mostly mechanical. Stiff hip flexors from sitting in a chair all fucking day.

        But, you know, there is the need to mitigate the occasional nervous breakdown. Do people still say “nervous breakdown”?

      • I dunno, Shanna. Being in a warehouse-like gallery with someone who produced a literary cult sleeper -and- someone who produced a bestseller? Sounds precisely like hell.

  16. I’ve found, in my greenhorn experience, that the stuff I thought was crap, just the cheesiest, obvious play on some sentimental emotion, people liked the most. I was a little disappointed, and then I started seeing dollar signs I think I’m going story-whore. In a hundred years no one will know I existed anyway, so why not? I wish I could read part of that script, not everyone has the same tastes or understanding of diction for a time period. But, I’ll probably end up paying 10 bucks to see if everyone was right. And the sun comes up and the sun goes down. As far as the first cut, yeah, apparently it is the deepest, but if it’s a good one it’s the last — then you start being honest. And then everyone says your great and you make a lot of money and you can’t change anything, especially things that have already happened, and then you die and some kid sees your movie or finds your book in the library and wonders what you life was but he, or she, will never really know. And life goes on, and on, and on. Can you just hint at the title? Probably not, good luck. This whole telling a story to tell the story of the story that everyone is already living is putting me into a not getting much work done mode. Why? Money? That’s as good a reason as any I guess.Existentialist dilemma, maybe.Who knows. Maybe you’re working with the wrong person. Maybe your script is old hat? Is there a vampire? A murder? A dangerous love affair that goes bad? A pulling out of the gutter to win a house and a nice car and never need to work again? Does god show up and explain all the confusion? Do the skin colors get together and realize that though they get pricked they still bleed red? Do things appear out of nowhere, or disappear into the same ether? Do people love each other in the end? Do people love themselves int he end? Talk about impulsiveness, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t come back here and start writing again but here I am. Fuck. But, to your question. I don’t handle feed back. I usually don’t ask for it. A check will tell me well enough. One thing I’ve learned in this life is no one is me. And no one can tell me how to write me better than me Feedback is for Hendrix, who knew what to do with it.

    • Since I brought up Hendrix, I feel obligated: Play it loud and listen close. I think it might be called artistry, but some folks use the word craft. Who knows.

  17. I handle feedback like a champ. It’s the work I betray in the end.

  18. I always welcome it, even if they’re wrong.

  19. You said it–a great reader is rare. But it’s always helpful to get any feedback, unless it’s a bad review, and even then, there might be something. It’s important not to be a slave to feedback unless you have the kind of reader you describe. Otherwise it’s stim, and can bring up fresh ideas, even if it’s off the mark. I love any feedback at this point. Save me from myself!

  20. “How do you handle feedback?”

    I pay attention to it.

  21. Will let you know by end of today. I’m meeting with my agent for lunch to get her feedback on my rewrite, which involved major reconstructive surgery. She gives awesome feedback – the only challenge I ever have with her is when she tries to be too kind, like a doctor giving a patient news about some terminal disease, or a teacher speaking to particularly slow student. Just give it to me straight – right between the eyes.

  22. Grin and bear it. If it’s good–often suggestions of restructuring–I pay attention. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opinion, how someone else would write something in their own way, and I’ll think, no, I don’t want to write your story; that’s your gig. But someone who I respect as a writer or someone who reads books that I admire (or even why they read what they read), I’m listening and I’m taking notes. Mostly it’s a matter of trusting my own gut and if it’s growling, well it might be time to toss that old dog a bone. Or maybe a cookie.

  23. Like a puppy on the receiving end of a rolled-up newspaper. But I’m working on it.

  24. Some famous writer once offered a rule for what feedback to listen to, and what feedback to ignore: if they LOVE your work, listen.

    So, although the agent I just signed with requested a nice fat revision before we’d submit, I am listening because she read the manuscript over the Christmas holidays, e-mailed me of her enthusisasm in the middle of reading it, and took me on. All of those things meant, she loved it. So, I love her back! (And I’m listening…..so far, during the revision process, everything she’s said has been confirmed.)

  25. My reader is brilliant, and her comments always elicit “Doh, why didn’t I see that??” from me. Now, if I thought the criticism/comments came from someone who was not so gifted, I don’t know, I would probably get a stiff spine and a tight lip. But I’d shut up and listen.

  26. It’s not as much about the comments as who they come from usually.

    If it’s coming from someone I don’t know, an agent or editor say then it’s about whether it reads true to me: good or bad. I usually have an immediate knee-jerk reaction to comments when I know they’ve hit the mark.

  27. Man, feedback is so relative. How is a twenty-something going to give a forty, or fifty-something decent feedback. Unless, of course, it’s just about selling books. Then, well, regurgitate ancient Greek myths, they still hold the fire. I’m too chapters into Eats, Shoots, and Leaves; so now I’m really fucked up. Feedback? Isn’t that like asking someone if you are a good person, or in this case a good writer? I have never gotten any feedback that didn’t make me think this person is a total fucking idiot. Maybe I’m the idiot. It wouldn’t be the first time. But books, how can anyone with a half-way alive conscience just say fuck that, what do you know, and what do you want. It’s so relative. I guess we’re talking sell, sell, sell, sell, here. Feedback. All the people that have given me feedback in the five years I’ve been seriously trying to write can be easily confused and dangled over the abyss by their ankles, intellectually, which, of course, is 80% emotional intelligence, in about five minutes. Feed back. Fuck me. Now I need to figure out who The Hose is. In my last post, I figure she was one of those Twenty somethings, so diction, culture, key words, ambitions, targets. For me it’s like watching Saturday Night Live; I try, but those folks must be doing some drugs I’ve never heard of because I just don’t understand why it’s funny. Or maybe I just don’t do drugs any more and I’m becoming my grandpa. I think I’m also getting that shiny, confused look in my eyes. Damn-it!

    • PS. That guy in that picture, I don’t know what to call it, seems to have a mighty big wish. I hope he can pull it apart. I’m on his side.

      • Jeff, How come when I click on your name it takes me to a defunct blog? That’s, like, hideous.

      • It’s not defunct. It just hasn’t been written on lately. I’m working up to it. I just undeleted it a few hours ago. But that’s still me. The ten year old writer. Dirty finger from scratching flea bites. I’m going to post again soon but don’t expect too much as I haven’t been published yet, but I think I know what I want to do. I hope it interests you. And the word hideous, that’s a little strong for this sort of thing. Don’t you think? But I get ya, the frustration. I usually say cock-sucker or cheese-dick mother-fucker, but I’m an old guy. It will be fresh with nothing new for a few days. I want to try to make sense. Read everything, though. It’s really just a kicked to the curb by parasitic college professor rants, so I hope you have a just finished college sense of humor. AND, thanks for asking.

  28. Jeff,

    Hideous, my dear, because you interested me….and that’s cool when it happens. Hideous to have my pleasure of discovering you put off. Cool that I want to know you, yes?


  29. Very. You made my day. Thanks.

  30. Have been fortunate enough to receive a fair amount of positive feedback, which is nice. But what I really appreciate is the critical stuff, whatever helps me learn and become better.

  31. If the feedback’s underlying assumptions are correct and the analysis pertinent, I’m grateful. If the concept itself is at issue – recently got a coverage where the reader was for indie fare when the script was something else entirely – I don’t care. Comments focusing on mechanics with potential solutions, as opposed to the random and snarky slag, are the most useful.

  32. Most hated syntax for feedback: A (something positive), but B (the negative). Syntact.

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