Taking Notes

I know a writer who is terrible at receiving notes. You can spend thirty seconds telling her that she might want to consider giving her main character at least one redeeming quality, and she will spend five minutes telling you that you’re wrong. Everything that you tell her, up to and including “I really like this scene, but there’s a typo” is the basis for an argument. She is an otherwise lovely person, but there is no way she will ever get to work as a professional writer.

Arguing notes makes you not a team player, and television writing especially is a team sport. If you’re very, very lucky, you get to sit in a room with 6-12 other writers and discuss psychology, current events, stories from your childhood you pray your parents still don’t know and, oh yes, your writing. You’ll be in that room every day, for a very long time. And if you waste time arguing for something that everyone agrees isn’t working, you’ll be in that room even longer. So start acting like you’re in that room now.

Getting notes can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Everyone understands that you’ve already invested a lot of time, thought and energy into your script, and now someone’s telling you that time and energy were wasted and your thought was wrong. It’s easy to bristle. This is your script! It’s finally done! Except it’s not your script, it’s your first draft.

What you have to understand is that no one is saying you’re bad at this. What they are saying is that you’ve laid a nice foundation, and now you can build up. It is going to take a lot of work. And everyone will give you different notes, which sometimes contradict each other. Your close friends, the ones you want making the decision on whether or not to pull the plug after this script has nearly killed you, will you look you straight in the eye and tell you that both of your main characters sound exactly like you and not like separate people. And you have to look them straight in the eye and know that behind every word, what they are saying is, “if I thought you were hopeless, I would tell you it was fine. But I think you’re great. This just needs a little more work.” And respond as if they said that out loud.

Everyone gets notes. Everyone. You think Joss Whedon doesn’t get notes? He had to scrap the entire (shot) pilot of Dollhouse. You think David E. Kelley doesn’t get notes? The original title of Harry’s Law was The Kindreds. Not every note you ever receive will be a good one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect it, because they were all given in the spirit of, “if I thought you were hopeless, I’d tell you it was fine.”

Or, as a professional writer I know likes to say, “There are good notes and there are bad notes, but there’s only one correct response: Thank you.”


About Generation Coax

I am an aspiring TV writer, amateur photographer, and craft hobbyist.
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