K’s Advice on Supporting the Writer

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More Than Your Average Support Team

As mentioned previously, I’m up to my eyeballs on two big projects through next week. My wife K suggested – begged – to provide a guest post this week. So, without further ado…

Regular Maximum Z readers know Paul has been at this for a long time. While he comments regularly on what it’s like to be a screenwriter and what is happening in the filmmaking world, he’s never addressed the world around him. As the long-time significant other, it’s my chance to give advice that you can choose to subtly share with those around you.

Although every creative couple is different, after 25+ yrs together, there are definite hits and misses of how to support your partner/spouse or guy/gal who writes.

They are:

First and foremost, they are the writer. Unless you are invited to give notes, you are NOT part of the writing process. It may be killing you inside, but no matter how much you just know it should be written differently, it’s not for you to say. I will confess there’s one script of Paul’s that my only feedback was: did you mean to make the protagonist look like an idiot in this scene? Yes, it was less than constructive notes, but I did wait to be asked.

Which leads to the second bit of advice: if you are invited to give notes, don’t be an asshole about it. The screenwriter is already getting that from so many others, including their own self-doubt. There is what should be an obvious line between giving feedback and ultimately rewriting a script to match what’s in your brain.

Rule of thumb: if you aren’t going to get WGA credit on the script, you shouldn’t be adding enough to have warranted it.

Third, know their writing schedule and style. Does your writer want breaks or is it heads down at the laptop until rewrites are complete? There’s a scene from TRUMBO where Bryan Cranston writes sitting in a tub. He yells at his teenage daughter for bothering him to mention they are singing Happy Birthday to her. Luckily, Paul doesn’t take his laptop into the tub, but we have arranged for the dog not to visit her favorite human when he’s at his desk.

My fourth suggestion is probably the hardest and most controversial. Don’t say “I know you will be successful.” Or, “it will happen with this script, I just know it.” No. You don’t know it.

In Jim Collins‘ book From Good to Great, he talks about the difference between being confident and being an optimist. The gist of it is the optimist believes so much that things will work out in the universe if they believe hard enough. That is a recipe for disappointment. In contrast, being confident in someone’s ability means that you believe they have the ability to do what they’ve set up to do.

That means for as much as I know I’m married to a talented writer and for as much as I love him to pieces, I can’t promise him it will work out. It hurts, but it’s the truth. I do know that if he continues to work as hard as he does and shows his scripts to the right people, he has the ability to be successful.

Ultimately, that’s the rub. We love ’em. We support ’em. Now, we need to get out of their way.

Bye for now.


Nevertheless, I still play well with others

I was told there'd be ice cream afterward...
Hey gang! Who wants ice cream?

I was reminded this week why it’s important to build up your own network of trusted friends and colleagues.

Even though I’m pretty confident about knowing certain things, and am more than willing to admit when I don’t know something, I need and always appreciate good feedback.

I’ve been very fortunate to be able to connect with a good number of talented writers over the past few years. The more we communicate (pretty much via email & Twitter), the more we respect and value each others’ opinions. So I’m extremely appreciative when they’re open to reading my stuff if I ask, or offering to read it, as well as asking if I’d do the same for them.

Everybody who’s read my script has liked it, but has also given thoughtful suggestions on how it could be improved.

This system has worked out pretty well for me, and hopefully it’s been reciprocal for them.

Which is why I don’t think I’ll be very active on public forums anymore. Not that I was overly active to begin with, but it’s hard for me to value the opinion of somebody I don’t know and has never seen anything I’ve written compared to somebody who knows me and my writing style.

Case in point: I once posted questions about what should and shouldn’t go into my query letter.  I got about a dozen responses, each with different answers and opinions. Of those, maybe two, possibly three, actually answered the question with well-thought, insightful and unexpectedly supportive comments. A majority weren’t very helpful, and one was just too cryptically-worded that I had no idea what they were talking about.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of helpful information out there, and connections are made all the time.  But reading responses to various posts, sometimes it feels like some folks don’t exactly have a firm grasp of what they’re talking about, or give advice not related to the original question.  Pointing you in the wrong direction will not help you in the long run.

Most of my connections have come through the other person’s online presence. I read their blog, newsletter or website, it gives me a bigger window into what kind of writer and person they are. I introduce myself, maybe there’s some email correspondence, and before you know it, both of our networks have increased by one.

It’s harder to accomplish that based on a 1-2 sentence not-as-helpful-as-you-had-hoped answer to your question.

It takes time to build up your network, but in the end you’ll be really glad you did.