Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Constructive Criticism or honesty; which do you prefer?

Learning to take feedback and reading other plays – is a vital part of improving yourself as a writer. It is said, repeated and repeated some more but so it should be.

I have realised in the last few weeks how incredibly lucky I am to be part of a writing group (actually two writing groups now). One of the things that happens automatically when you’re in a writing group is that you give and receive feedback so inevitably you get more experienced at reading plays and taking feedback.

Over Xmas I had a manic few days reading 3 TV scripts, whilst also trying to get my project done which involved drafting 2 beginnings before making a final decision which to submit for the Red Planet Prize.

Then this week began with an intensive 3 hour session, reading 4 plays and then offering comments for the Spread The Word scheme.

I came back from it exhausted; physically and mentally. But also exhilarated to be part of such great groups. As a writing group we’re all very comfortable with one another, we trust one another, we respect one another. Often feedback can be frustratingly constructive, smothered in positivity for fear of causing offense and inevitably it is pointless feedback.

I want to know what it wrong with my writing, what needs changing, what was confusing? I want to hear strong opinions not wishy-washy ones so that I know what people don't like about my plays. With the Writing for Performance Group, and also the sub group in Screenwriting which has now spawned from it, the feedback is raw, it’s argumentative, it’s feisty. It’s easy to come away from one of the feedback sessions feeling like your work has been torn to pieces and lies in shreds at your feet. But that’s what it’s about. Make notes of all the comments, pick up the shreds of your work and dignity, skulk back to your study and make the script better.

Although I can take credit for setting up the Writing for Performance group, I can’t take credit for the dynamic of the group being so successful. It is more sheer luck that the group is full of excellent and highly opinionated writers who are happy to offer something that is closer to curt criticism, occasionally cutting criticism but above all honest criticism.

And that’s a good thing. Actually, no it’s a great thing. The industry isn’t going to give you constructive criticism and protect you in fluffy cotton wool – it’s going to reject you without a single word of explanation, over and over again and that’s if you’re lucky. More than likely it will tell you your shit, your writings a joke and you have absolutely zero talent. It may even laugh at you – to your face. Even if you reach the top of the industry it doesn’t get better, it gets worse – supposed fans, peers and morons alike will spend hours dedicated to telling you exactly how rubbish your script was and how they could have done a much better job than you. The comments boxes that litter the world means that caustic criticism is the default setting for feedback nowadays. So deal with it or get a different job.

Some other and much wiser words than mine on feedback from Kaite O’Reilly