Writing Is Rewriting
All writers have different methods. There are those like Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong who power through a first draft with nary a look behind them, whereas others like Eric Roth start each day by going back over their previous work, constantly re-shaping and amending. Personally I’ve found the latter more conducive to creating something I’m happy with, but the former is often the best approach when you are faced with a deadline.
Regardless of how you come by your first draft; if you want to make any forward progress, then eventually someone has to read it.
If you’re a new writer, then showing your work to someone for the first time is much like losing your virginity….terrifying, filled with self-doubt, and if you’re at all like me, then it’ll almost certainly end in tears. Whoever you choose for this momentous occasion, they must have the following qualities:
i) An interest in/knowledge of the script-writing process. Asking someone that has no point of reference is useless.
ii) They must be honest. There is a tendency to tell people what they want to hear. This is not helpful at all. Ever.
iii) They must be encouraging. The first person I approached to read my work refused to do so before advising me to do something else. Luckily the next person I asked was warm, giving, honest and helpful….I was so grateful I married her.
iv) Be wary of speaking to other writers. As the Hemmingway character says in Midnight In Paris – “if it's bad, I'll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it's good, I'll be envious and hate it all the more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.” I couldn’t agree with this more.
Taking notes in a professional capacity can be a tricky business. Producers are wont to change their mind, or conveniently not remember what they wanted in the first place. Try not to get too upset when this happens. You’re not the first person to find yourself in this situation, and you won’t be the last.
My advice would be:
i) Try to get as much information as possible before you start out.
ii) Understand that they might well not know exactly what they want. Your first draft is almost certainly going to disappoint them in some way, so try not to get demoralized when it does.
iii) Often there are several people involved in the decision making process. Find out whom the buck stops with, and make sure you listen to them the most.
iv) Know that not all criticism is constructive. Have the wisdom to listen to those things that can help you and the confidence to ignore those that will not.
I tend to respond to notes like I respond to the death of a close relation. First, I’m angry. Angry at myself for getting it wrong. Then I’m sad at spending so much time getting it wrong. Finally I accept I got it wrong. I watch an episode of Arrested Development, have a drink, and start again.
As hard as it sometimes is - every time I’ve listened to someone, I think my work has got better. Writing is collaborative. Even when you’re on your own, sat at your desk, staring at a blank screen, you have to consider other people’s opinions. As long as these people didn’t produce Piranha 3D, you’ll be fine.