How To Handle Feedback: 6 Do’s & Don’ts

It’s another Archive Revive because I just got a new writing gig and am super busy! Currently, I’m sifting through feedback from the clients, so this re-post is appropriate…

How To Handle Feedback

Originally posted on Jan. 20, 2014. Updated Nov. 30, 2015

Script RevisionsIt’s been so long since I was in school that I can’t even remember if the professors taught us anything about handling feedback. Perhaps they just marked up our scripts in red and waited to see who would cry/quit and who would persevere/rewrite. Luckily, I was in the latter category. And over the last 15 years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to learn how to deal with script notes, whether from friends, teachers, screenwriters, broadcasters, producers or directors. In TV, it often feels like everyone, even the office dog, critiques your script.

So, without further ado, here are 6 tips on handling feedback…

#1 Don’t Take It Personally. If your story needs improvement, that doesn’t mean you suck. Notes are not an attack on your character or proof that you’re a bad writer. No story is perfect, and every writer has room to improve. In TV, everyone gets notes on their scripts, from the most junior writer to the top dog showrunner. Knowing that sure helped me deal with feedback at the beginning of my career; it’s easier not to take it personally when you know everyone gets critiqued.

#2 Do Respect the Note Giver. Giving feedback is sometimes as hard as getting it. If you’ve chosen your critique partners wisely, they’re not petty backstabbers out to sabotage your writing career, they’re people who genuinely want to help you. Same with editors, publishers, producers or broadcasters. You may not agree with their notes, but do respect them. They’ve put a lot of time and thought into their feedback.

#3 Don’t Be Defensive. When receiving feedback, don’t argue with the critique giver or defend your writing. Just listen and think about it. Why? Because there’s merit in every note, even the ones that seem way off base.

#4 Do Ask Questions. If you don’t understand a note, just ask for clarification. Heck, even if you understand but don’t agree, ask for clarification because it will help you see where the note is coming from, and once you know that, it might not seem so stupid.

#5 Don’t Ignore Notes. Not even the ones that seem wrong. In TV, we writers receive notes from many people who are not writers, so sometimes those notes are off base, meaning the note giver’s suggestion isn’t something the main character would do, or doesn’t make sense for the world of the show, or could even derail the whole story! BUT, as a wise showrunner I worked for once said, something about the story “bumped” the note giver, which means something isn’t working, so even if the note seems wrong, there’s a reason for that note, and as writers it’s our job to figure out what the problem is and fix it.

#6 Do Embrace Change. The whole point of getting feedback is to change your script/manuscript for the better. So don’t resist it, do it!

That’s what I’ve learned about feedback over the years. If anyone has other tips, please share!

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Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

13 thoughts on “How To Handle Feedback: 6 Do’s & Don’ts”

  1. Great advice. Much as it’s nice to hear “I loved it” or “you’re so talented” it’s better to have feedback that can help us improve our writing. Even if we don’t want to hear it at the time.

  2. Great post. I especially like #5. A comment might be way off but you have to keep an eye on that section or scene because there was a reason for the note. Too often, writers will dismiss a critique or suggestion because it’s clearly “wrong” but it would be wise to look at it again and/or have someone else take a peek at that part.

  3. Great advice!
    Learning to accept feedback/criticism as a positive thing took a little time. Now I get upset if I get a crit back that doesn’t point out enough things that could use improvement.

  4. (My “website” is a frequently bogged blog.) As an editor and writer, I appreciate your recommendations. I’ve found it is easy to form a relationship that is beneficial to the writer and to me, when your advice is followed. It is such a pleasure to work with someone with that approach, and a joy to see the writer’s ms. bloom and flourish, to celebrate behind the scenes as all sorts of good repercussions arise for the writer after the book’s publication! I’m sharing your message.

  5. I’ve found feedback should be given with the positive first, then the negative to lessen the blow. It’s difficult for both the author and the critique partner, but it’s necessary for growth.

    1. I discovered that is the common wisdom for feedback with respect to novelists. But it definitely is not a format that the television industry follows! This is perhaps a time issue – when one is writing for hire, you need to address the notes and revise the script as soon as possible. If the note-giver mentions that they liked a joke on page 3, bonus! But otherwise they won’t take the time to make sure they have positive comments to counterbalance everything they don’t like. Bottom line, if they don’t give a note to change something, that means they like it! So in screenwriter land, saying nothing IS the positive comment. 😉

      Thanks for your comment, Sue! It’s a good reminder for me that people outside the TV biz have a different expectation of feedback.

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