When I was in the Act One Producing Program, they offered a class on How to Give Notes to Writers! I thought it was a great class. And when I went through the Writing Program, one year later, I tried to give notes like I’d been taught in that Producing Program class. I also tried to receive notes through the filter of what I’d learned in that class. So not only was it helpful for me as a producer, it became helpful for me as a writer!
I just got my CS Weekly email and this was one of the quotes at the top:
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
– Neil Gaiman
This is good advice for both writers and executives.
As a writer, I need to hear about what’s not working. However, an executive’s assumption about why it’s not working affects his or her perspective about how it should be fixed! Often, only the writer knows why something’s not working. Or, integrity demands of the executive that he or she let the writer figure out why it’s not working. Often the fix isn’t in the scene that isn’t working. Sometimes, it’s several pages or scenes back!
So if you’re a writer getting notes, ignore the fixes and try to hear the underlying truth — something’s not working. Figure out what that is, and then figure out how to fix it.
If you’re an executive giving notes, don’t try to do the writer’s job! Just let him or her know that you’re confused on page 7, page 36 doesn’t ring true, and the climax on page 89 falls flat. Often, the writer will already know why it’s falling flat and will already have three ideas for how to fix it. He or she just needed to know whether or not what they wrote worked!