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Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Getting (And Taking!) Notes

1) Not realising that it’s NOT ABOUT YOU

One of the most important things I learned about giving notes is to make it about the script and not the writer. This is not personal. This is about a piece of writing. This is about improving that writing and it’s not saying you’re a bad person or a bad parent or a cheating husband or any of that. I once had a client whose pilot was about a husband and wife divorcing and the notes wrote stated that the wife was unlikable and hard to connect to. He was furious and told me so, slamming me on social media. Later we found out the character was based on his wife with whom he was going through a difficult divorce.

TAKEAWAY:  Don’t project yourself onto the notes. You may have work to do. We ALL can improve in everything we do. Even Martin Scorsese gets a bad review now and again. MORE: Top 5 Feedback Mistakes Writers Make

2) Not finding the RIGHT consultant or feedback-giver

This might take time and word of mouth probably helps a lot but find the right consultant or script competition – however you’re getting notes – for you. Look for one that writes in a way that works for you (like whether you need oral or written directions to the store). Some consultants focus on commercial viability, some hammer the writer on the don’ts and not enough on the do’s. Some offer suggestions and teach, some break notes up into CHARACTER/THEME/STORY and so on and others simply go from back to front and take you page by page. Ideally the consultant isn’t just telling you what’s wrong but telling you what’s right and where things can be improved. As well, they ought to teach or give suggestions as to how to make changes. FYI, Finish Line goes front to back and offers suggestions on how to fix things as well as gives overall ideas in a page of general comments. We don’t use ‘you need to’, ‘you should’ nor do we address commercial viability. We are about the writing.

TAKEAWAY:  Getting notes isn’t supposed to be a sado-masochistic process. Find a company or person that is honest and communicates truths the way you hear them best. MORE: How To Use Feedback Effectively

3) Treating notes like they’re written in stone

Everything written is a suggestion. No one ought to tell you how to change your script so it’s not your script anymore. That’s not their job. Your script is your ownership and your voice and some blood, sweat and tears has likely gone into it. Don’t take a note if it doesn’t feel right. If you’re questioning something, and you can afford to or have access to helpful friends/writing colleagues, send your script to a few places and see if you get the same note from all. If it changes what you want to say, don’t take it unless you agree what you want to say needs changing.

TAKEWAY:  Good script consultants are helpful but they aren’t you. You know what you want to say better than anyone. Don’t put anyone on a pedestal. MORE: 6 Things to Remember When Dealing With Feedback

4) Not following up or asking for clarification on notes

When choosing a place to get notes from, inquire whether you can have follow-up questions with your consultant (via email at least). Notes are coming from someone skilled in the craft of writing, using terms like ‘inciting incident’ and referring to different acts and scene structure. If you are not a seasoned writer, some of the terminology in notes may be foreign to you. We always offer writers the opportunity to follow up in order to make sure the entirety of the notes is absorbed. if you get notes and simply think, “I have no idea what this means” you’re probably not going to do any revisions.

TAKEWAY: Get the most you can for the money you pay. Make sure you can get clarification if you need it. The customer is the boss. MORE: 5 Ways To Evaluate Your Feedback

5) Judging the consultant or feedback-giver

I once gave notes to someone who ripped me apart because I didn’t know certain hipster speak and my note was that I felt that it was distancing my ability to relate to the story. If I am feeling that way, others might too. We may not all be as cool as you. Make sure you keep scripts readable, even if you want to make them unique. There are lots of ways to create an environment without making it exclusive.

TAKEWAY:  You don’t have to agree with everything, but do consider everything. MORE: Top 5 Winning Tips From The Finish Line Script Competition

BIO: The Finish Line Script Competition offers 6+ pages of development notes and allows you to resubmit new and improved drafts for free. We are currently open for Early Bird Submissions. When you purchase 6+ pages of notes you’re automatically entered in the competition. We’re all on a learning curve in life – find someone who is there to help you along the way!

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4 thoughts on “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Getting (And Taking!) Notes”

  1. I did no2 so I followed through as I didn’t understand the feedback and asked for clarification, I just wanted examples what followed was an epic rant about their experience and my audacity to question it by asking for clarification. Thing is I really don’t have a clue and the experience scared me shitless and knocked my confidence. I don’t mind asking politely for something, however balanced constructive criticism is an art form, blessed be to those that have it!

    1. Ugh. That’s awful, Karen. You were asking for help — not a debate. What a shame. All the more reason why Lucy’s #2 is important.

      For the record, I can personally attest to the fact that if you do someday choose to use Lucy, her notes will be clear and concise. I speak from experience as I’ve used her before. There will be a hard truth or two, but there will be loads of encouragement and support.

      Happy writing, Karen!

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