I was going to blog about a recent experience with feedback when this timely article by Bob Saenz popped up in my Twitter feed. It’s an insightful look at how to receive feedback with grace and aplomb… and also robs me of an opportunity to express a semi-original thought. It’s now been covered.
My post had to do with the giving part of the equation, but since there was entirely too much intersection between the two to justify adding my publication to the vast sea of blogdom, I’ll focus on another aspect of feedback: the value of a reliable peer group willing to give it fairly. I’d love to call this a companion piece to Bob Saenz’s post, but since I’m pretty much a nobody I’ll just call it piggybacking.
I recently got painful feedback from someone in my screenwriters group whom we’ll call Mr. T (because who wouldn’t want that moniker?). It was painful not because of my superfluous supporting character or my overdescribing an action or the extreme tonal shift in my second act. In fact it didn’t even pertain to my script at all. It was feedback on my feedback.
Mr. T had shared his first pass at a comedy piece. The first thing I said was that it was too long and the humor felt forced.
Then I basically repeated that, adding that it was too long and forced even for a first draft.
What was that all about? After all, that’s what first drafts are for: expunging the dreck from our heads. Usually my initial feedback notes vacillate from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. I then refine the notes so they’re more constructive than damaging, more encouraging than cheerleading. Leave unhelpful comments to the YouTube trolls. So I never share the first draft of my feedback. Except this time I did.
Okay before I go on I want to be clear: I’m talking about feedback that’s fair and helpful, not nice. I’m not from the EGAT (Everyone Gets A Trophy) Generation so I’d never argue that feedback has to be all smiles and sunshine. If our stuff isn’t that good we need to hear it. Therefore notes require a combination of honesty and tact for them to be truly effective. It doesn’t help to hear how awesome your stuff is – unless it’s accompanied by a check. At the same time, we don’t need another writer utterly crushing us like a giant Monty Python cartoon foot.
Whatever it was that moved me to spew that useless first draft comment – perhaps my own self-induced writing funk or my expectation that Mr. T could do better – I not only undermined his confidence in his script, but I threatened the uber-valuable peer relationship that I’d cultivated with him, as well as the others in the writers group.
I did note that the core part of the idea was super funny and it could be a hilarious piece. But that didn’t matter because he thought that rusty fork of a comment that I twisted inside of his gut summarized how I felt about the whole thing. Rather than go all Clubber Lang on me – which probably would’ve been justified – Mr. T simply took umbrage and told me as much when we spoke later. Much later.
Fortunately this writer and I are friends (um, right T?) and we’ve helped each other out many times, so we know there’s no ill will between us (right T?). But it never does any good to tear down another writer without offering to help build them back up.
And now to hope that nobody comments on how they feel about this article cuz I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of feedback…