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How To Receive Feedback by Samuel Caine

Okay, okay, we’ve all heard a thousand ways to give feedback more effectively. Consult my last article if you want to see my definitive 5. One thing I’ve heard a lot less about is how to TAKE feedback more effectively. This is also a skill.
Being able to take feedback well and knowing what to do with it could mean the difference between you work being good and great/terrible and bad.

Here are 5 ways to get the most out of feedback:

1. Mum’s not the word.
No. Don’t expect feedback from your mother. By all means, allow her to read it, but she’s never going to give you the kind of feedback you want OR PROBABLY NEED. If she’s the stereotypical loving mother, she will praise it and think it’s absolutely wonderful. She’ll mount in on the wall next to your baby teeth and your first nappy and all the other waste products you’ve churned out and she thought were great and special, because she’s your mum. If she’s the stereotypical cruel mother, then she’ll probably burn it and tell you that you are a disappointment and should have been a dentist or something respectable and you’ll feel awful.

This rule also applies to fathers, sisters, grandparents or anyone who will be nice/nasty without objectivity. Pretend that ‘mum’ is a synonym for someone who cares about you too much one way or another to be truly objective about your work.
There is an art to finding the right person to read your work, so don’t just send it around your immediate friends and family willy-nilly and expect anything more than a post-it note’s worth of useless information.

It might (heaven forbid!) be worth paying someone who’s good at this, or finding someone who charges and managing to get them to work for free, because they’re a sucker. Someone like me, perhaps.

2. Don’t get angry.
Assuming you’ve found the right person to read your work, if they send you a report saying that points A, B and C didn’t work, don’t spit out your dummy. They’re not trying to start a fight with you. As I mentioned the other day – feedback is very personal, and it’s hard not to take it as someone saying ‘Your baby is ugly’. Someone who gives good feedback will tell you WHY your baby is ugly, and how to fix it through surgery.

The best feedback will come from people who know how to soften the blow of criticism, but that doesn’t mean the things that really hurt are worth serving a prison sentence for.

The best way to avoid this is to think of the script as unfinished. You’re merely sending off blueprints, which someone is suggesting you change. If you think of it as a completed masterpiece, then it feels like you’ve built a lovely house and they’re smashing it to pieces with a big old nasty wrecking ball of hatred.

3. Don’t be afraid to listen

‘I really like this…’
‘But I didn’t think…’

Take the rough with the smooth. Listen to everything. So many times I’ve seen people given feedback and think that it wasn’t relevant because the person feeding back didn’t really UNDERSTAND the piece. That’s fine. It happens. Sometimes readers don’t understand a piece, but if they’re a good reader, then the person whose job it was to make them understand has failed. (That’s the writer, in case that was too ambiguous.)

If someone misses the point of something, that doesn’t mean you should remove the point, but you need to address it more clearly.
Similarly, if a reader doesn’t like something, ask yourself WHY that is? What can you do to change it? They’ll no doubt have suggestions, but if those suggestions don’t work, find something that will.

4. Don’t be afraid to NOT listen.
No one has all the answers. There is no such thing as a definitive script reading service. It doesn’t exist. No one can read a script, identify every single problem and solve them all. It’s impossible. Firstly, because what might be problematic to some viewers/readers could be an asset to others.

Ultimately, this is a very subjective field. The most objective script reader in the world is nowhere near objective. They have tastes, preferences and pet hates which are very specific to them.

Similarly, no script reader gives 2500 words and expects you to follow every single one. They’re not writing a how-to guide. They’re trying to provoke you into making your work better.

Be very careful with this rule though. I’m telling you don’t have to listen to everything, but make sure when you decide to not listen, that you’re doing it for the right reasons, rather than just being stroppy.

5. Don’t get angsty.
Writers can get a bit emotional about things. If you put a lot into your work, someone doesn’t like it and you’re prone to being over-sensitive anyway, the final result can be disastrous. My mind’s shows recycling bins being emptied, notebooks being shredded and manuscripts thrown onto open fires.

Even if the person who read your script picked holes in every single aspect of it, and you agree with them, don’t be self-defeating. Don’t hang up your pen/laptop/notebook. Take on board what they’ve said and move on from it. This is how you’ll learn. This is how you’ll get better.


BIO: Sam Caine is a scriptwriting student at Bournemouth University about to embark on his final year. He enjoys reading, writing and moaning. He doesn’t enjoy mushrooms, spiders or talking about himself in the third person. You can follow him on his slightly bizarre Twitteron his blog of writing-related miscellanea, or subscribe to him on Facebook, if you’re into that kind of stuff. He tries to refrain from judgement.

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