I had an email exchange recently that started with the other person asking me a lot of questions about self-publishing and promotion, which were clearly coming from a place of having read everything one is supposed to do and deciding that I somehow wasn’t doing any of that, then evolved into specific questions about my work and how I would be able to defend its originality in such a crowded sub-genre (happiness).
As I was getting pissier and pissier in my replies, I stopped, took a deep breath, and realized that this man was doing me a favor. In a forum as small and intimate as an email, he was asking questions that I am likely to be asked in book readings, during promotional interviews, at cocktail parties…all sorts of places where it would be good to already have the answers in advance.
Challenges to your personal status quo are always, always good if you’re open to them.
I’m in a writing group in Hollywood where screenwriters bring in pages from their scripts and actors act them out, then everyone gives the writer feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Everyone in the group pays monthly dues to be part of it – both the writers and the actors.
The last script I put up was a first draft of an action comedy — a brand new genre for me. It needed a lot of work. I knew it needed a lot of work, which is why I brought it to my writers group to work on. That’s kind of the point of being in a writers group.
We do scenes from two scripts each week and the other script that was being staged along with mine was a remake of a horror classic written by an amazing writer with the producer of the original movie involved.
In short, the other script was awesome and mine sucked. Week after week, I got to hear everyone give that writer feedback on how awesome his writing is, then had to sit through much more extensive feedback about the scads of things that didn’t work in my script. It was awful. It was painful. It was demoralizing. I loved it!
Because it was making the script BETTER, and that’s what I’m there for. It’s why I pay to be a member of this group, and drive 40 minutes in horrible LA traffic each week to get there.
Feedback is always, always good if you’re open to it.
So now, I’m staging a new script, which is already fairly good, but still needs honing, and the other script that the group is doing needs a lot of work. A lot. So the writer has to sit there and hear all the things that are wrong with that script while on the same night hearing everything that’s magnificent about mine. I’ve been there. I feel that pain. I loved it, remember?
Sadly, the other writer feels the pain, too, and doesn’t love it. The other writer is closed off and argumentative and actively resistant to what’s being said – by everyone. (Okay, not everyone. This group has a few super-nice people who will find something good to say regardless. Those people are going to be crushed by this business…)
Honestly, I don’t understand it. Why pay to be in a writers group if you are not going to soak up like a sponge everything people want to give you? We are all PAYING TO BE THERE, to do nothing more than give feedback on the writers’ work. Where else are you going to get a deal like that?! The actors PAY to act out our words and give us their (very worthy) opinions. The writers whose work isn’t being staged still PAY to come each week and give other writers feedback. This rocks!
What is the downside of listening with an open mind, and writing it all down judiciously, and figuring out what was right and what was wrong and why eight people mentioned the same awkward line of dialogue? If seven Russians tell you you’re drunk, LIE DOWN!
But some people just aren’t able to absorb honest, open, agenda-free feedback. They keep asking themselves why they aren’t succeeding, without being able to see the answer, even when written in lights.
If someone gives you feedback, thank them. They are doing you a favor. If someone points out that you roll your eyes in meetings, or have a nasty tone when talking to your kids, or lack listening skills – that person is doing nothing but helping you. You have everything to gain from taking that information and using it to make yourself better. Don’t get defensive, don’t counter with a little “feedback” of your own, don’t storm off in a huff. Say, “Thank you,” then do what it takes to make sure no one ever says something like that to you again.