In a few conversations with writers and industry-connected folk, I’ve mentioned how I occasionally do script notes for friends and read for contests.
Sometimes I’d get a “That’s really nice of you.”
And once in a while, the person would look puzzled, and ask, with what I presume was in all sincerity, “Why?”
The way they utter that monosyllable carries a strong tone of “Well, that sounds like a genuine waste of time.”
To which I say, “Why not?” I consider myself a nice person, and try to help other writers out when I can.
Too simplistic? Let me elaborate.
I like reading other people’s stuff. In the case of doing notes, I’m either asked, or it’s reciprocal for them having given me notes on my scripts. That’s the least I can do.
(It should also be pointed out that a few cookies-for-notes transactions have taken place, with both parties being quite satisfied with the results.)
With a lot of the material I read being from experienced writers who know what they’re doing, the scripts are often quite solid from both craft and storytelling perspectives. This in turn helps me hone my analytical skills, which I can then apply to my scripts. Or at least attempt to.
Plus, screenwriters should always be reading scripts.
Regarding the contests, I’ve entered enough of them over the years with the hope I get a quality reader or readers, so I see this as a kind of giving back. It’s very time and labor-intensive, and I’ve had to endure more than my fair share of poor-to-horribly-written scripts. On the other hand, every once in a while you find a true rose among thorns.
I’m just trying to offer up the kind of help I could have benefitted from when I was still learning the basics. And even today, having made some progress on all fronts, I still seek out, as well as offer up when asked, advice and guidance. So far, no complaints.
I’ve never claimed to be an expert, but I do what I can. If that means setting aside some time to read something and offer up my two cents, so be it.
A few months ago, after connecting with another writer on a networking site, I asked my usual get-to-know-you question – “How are your latest projects coming along?”
Their response: “Good. You can read these (2) copyrighted scripts HERE (link). Also looking into setting up some table reads.”
Sometimes this happens. I ask somebody how it’s going, they give a brief, no-nonsense answer, and that’s it. No “How about you?” Hey, it’s cool. I understand. You’re not interested in being social. No big deal. (Although it does defeat the purpose of this whole “networking” thing.)
My standard procedure after that is to let things drop, which I did.
Until a month later.
This same person sent me a boilerplate notice regarding something else, so I decided to try again.
“How’d the table reads go?”
“Still waiting for funding. Still haven’t read my screenplays yet, have you?”
Um, was I supposed to?
I looked over our previous exchange. Nope. No request to “please read my screenplays”. Just “this is where you can read them”, plus the emphasis on them being copyrighted, to no doubt put the kibosh on any potential IP theft on my part.
This was also just after I’d started my 10-day writing marathon, so I had absolutely no time to read anything. I said I hadn’t read them, and was currently involved with some really big projects.
That did not sit well with them, at least from their perspective.
“Figured this is the pat response I always get when I try to start a conversation here. If you ever join OTHER NETWORKING SITE, let me now (sic). That’s where I network the most and actually find fellow creatives to work with. Here, not so much.”
And that was that.
Huh? Did I miss something? They were starting a conversation with me? Apparently I was the latest in a long line of someone giving what they considered to be a lame excuse as to why I hadn’t read their material, which I supposedly said I would.
I considered responding with some kind of harshly-worded retort, but opted not to. It simply wasn’t worth the time or effort. In fact, up until I started writing this post, I hadn’t even thought about them since, and will have most likely forgotten about them by this time tomorrow.
I’ve covered this subject before, and am compelled to do so again.
A big part of this industry is establishing and maintaining relationships.
It is extremely important for you to be a nice person. To everybody.
Granted, not everybody is going to reciprocate, but you’re much more likely to make a good impression if you’re friendly, polite, and professional. Both in person and online. People will remember that.
And they will also remember it if you’re not. Establish a reputation for being a pompous, know-it-all jerk, then that’s how people will perceive you, which will severely reduce your chances of somebody wanting to work with you a second time (providing they survive the first).
When you initially connect with somebody and a conversation develops, take the initiative and make it about them. Ask how their projects are going. In theory, they’ll answer and ask about yours. Be friendly, inquisitive, and encouraging. I’ve made a lot of good contacts and gotten to know a lot of extremely talented writers that way.
Added bonus – Your network of writing associates has the potential to be a virtual support team. Part of why my writing’s improved over the past few years is a direct result of receiving quality notes from many of these writers, and I’ve always been totally willing to return the favor.
And they’re also there for you in the rough times. If I announce some disappointing news, I can always rely on receiving a lot of sympathetic and encouraging comments to remind me I’m not alone in this, and that a lot of folks (none of whom I’m related to) believe in my abilities.
All of this from being a nice person!
But, as exemplified in my little anecdote from earlier, sometimes a connection just doesn’t happen. If somebody doesn’t seem interested, don’t push it. Wish them the best and move on. There are a lot of other writers out there for you to meet.
And they’ll probably think you’re just as fantastic as I do.
Not one, but two, count ’em – TWO, fantastic get-to-know-you chats with some fellow local writers over the past week. (Eight days if you want to get technical about it)
As part of one of these discussions, the topic of dealing with criticism came up. In particular, criticism that seems to come from a harsh, angry place. They go way beyond “This needs work”, and potentially surpass the purpose of notes to the point of simply being downright cruel.
“This is shit. Whoever told you you could write?”
“Any attempt to fix this would be a waste of time. Just give up now.”
Chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of notes. I certainly have.
When we’re first starting out, we don’t realize how much we don’t know, and that’s reflected on the page. There’s not one experienced writer who thinks their first script or two was perfect.
So you work at it. You toil away, constantly putting in the effort to improve. And over time, you do. You know you’ve gotten better, and that also comes through on the page. Maybe you’ve even gotten compliments or (gasp!) praise about your work.
But despite your progress, you might still get a note like those above that totally trashes what you’ve written. This has also happened to me. Fairly recently, I might add.
What myself and the other writer discussed was “Where does this anger come from?” We’ve both been doing this for a while, so neither of us is a total noob. We each had more than a few scripts under our respective belts, so what could possibly be the basis for such a mean-spirited rant?
I casually threw out something I’d only read about and heard in the occasional mention: Could the person giving the notes be jealous of the material, and they were venting their anger and frustration about it via their notes?
Let me set one thing straight. I think I’m a good writer, but I will never claim to be the be-all and end-all. In fact, I’d be amazed if somebody was jealous of my work.
When I read somebody else’s script and find it totally amazing, I’ll tell them so. Do I wish I could write something that good? Sure, but it makes me want to work harder so I can. I don’t think “I’ll never be as good as them, so I’ll shit all over their material in order to make myself feel better.”
Taking this kind of negative approach can only result in a lose-lose scenario for you. You make yourself look bad and the other person will most likely not want anything to do with you anymore. And don’t think they’re going to forget you. To them, you’ll always be that angry asshole.
Something else to keep in mind – you never know who’s going to succeed, so the person whose script you just trashed could potentially be the next big thing. Wouldn’t you rather be on their good side, and not their shit list?
I work really hard to establish and maintain my network of connections, and value each one too much to do that. I want everybody to succeed and actually enjoy helping if and when I can.
But then again, I’m just a nice guy to begin with. Even if I do occasionally end sentences with a preposition.
I’m in the home stretch for the November writing project. I got into Act 3 over the weekend, and think there about 10-12 pages left before I can call it a day. No reason I can’t wrap things up in the next couple of days. Estimated final page count should be somewhere in the mid-90s, so pretty much where I was hoping it would be.
My original intent was to put that on the back burner once it was done and shift my focus to another script, but something else has developed that definitely requires my attention: other people’s work.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been very fortunate to have gotten some fantastic feedback from friends and trusted colleagues. Now it’s my turn to return the favor.
Actually, make that favors. Plural.
Every time I’ve asked someone if they’d be willing to read and give me notes, I always offer to do the same for them. And several have taken me up on the offer.
Which is totally fine. I just didn’t expect all of them to happen within such a short timeframe. But it’s cool. Just requires a little planning.
Some script-related items, two scripts requiring special attention (with a bit of a time limitation), and at least 4-5 others getting straight-up notes. Yeah, that’s a lot, but I’d feel pretty shitty if I didn’t reciprocate the kindness all of these folks extended to me.
While I’d love to keep the 2-pages-a-day momentum going clear through to the end of December and have at least part of a draft of another script, taking care of these is now top priority.
It may take me a little longer than I expect, but I always strive to honor my commitments. I said I’d do something for you, and by gosh, I’ll do it.
If you met someone who does the same thing you do, but has been doing it longer and with more success, wouldn’t you ask them for advice on how you could get to their level, and more importantly, heed that advice?
While I’m not a professional writer (yet), others, mostly on the newer side, will ask me for feedback on their script. If I have the time, I’ll do it, and offer up what guidance and suggestions I can.
My notes are sent with the reminder that these are just my opinions to do with as they see fit. Fortunately, most of the responses have been positive and appreciative.
But once in a while, somebody will disagree with what I’ve said or totally ignore it. That’s their choice. They came to me seeking help, and I guess didn’t like what I had to say.
I once asked somebody what kind of material it was, and the answer was long-winded and very academic. While they were droning on, I couldn’t help but think “If they tried to pitch this to a producer, that meeting would probably be over right about now.”
Asking another writer for their logline, I got what sounded more like the short paragraph you’d see on the back of a novel. I tried a few different approaches, each time hoping to point them in the right direction as well as coax out some of the creativity they claimed to have. No such luck. After offering up what you do and don’t want to have in a logline, the response was a curt “Got it. Thanks.” Can’t say I didn’t try.
Part of me wonders if my advice would be taken more seriously if I charged for it.
You came to me for help, remember? Just because you don’t like the answer doesn’t mean it’s not true.
I’m not trying to be mean. Quite the opposite. There are hard truths about this business that some people just refuse to acknowledge. All of us who came before you learned them the hard way, and if you want to make it, then you’re going to have to do the same.