David Hal Chester
ACCEPTING NOTES GRACEFULLY, WITH GRATITUDE
Because I came to screenwriting much later than most writers do, I always felt I had to try harder and learn more and be better. I was given my first set of notes on a TV pilot I wrote from a seasoned TV writer who had a long list of major network credits. He hand wrote 8 pages of scathing notes. They were devastating, to put it mildly. It is true, I did not know what I was doing. Was it necessary for him to be as cruel as he was? I'm not sure, but I got the message: I needed to do a lot more work if I wanted to be a "contender."
I often reflect on those 8 pages of notes. Had I not spent a considerable amount of time on a therapist's sofa, I might have driven off a cliff after reading his rant. But fortunately I had some small modicum of self-respect and belief in myself and moved forward (keeping his notes in mind). As I moved on to my first feature, the notes I received were from screenwriting competitions. Most of the notes were excellent and written by people who were obviously well-read and knew a lot about screenplays -- and knew how to give notes. They were not delivered with an acid tongue, but clearly and matter-of-factly. Doesn't mean they weren't critical. But they knew how to be blunt without being cruel; that's a skill, I think.
I then discovered "Screenwriting Twitter" and connected with some truly excellent writers who generously gave me insightful notes on my screenplays, notes that I would have had to pay a lot for otherwise. I applied their notes and my scripts did better in competitions. I was really grateful. The point of this blog is: if you ask someone (or pay someone) to give you notes on your screenplay, accept them gracefully, whether you agree with them or not. Sometimes, clarification is needed, so, don't be afraid to ask if something isn't clear. And finally, most importantly, make sure you thank them, regardless of what you may think of their notes, be it friend, family or paid consultant. You don't have to agree/love what they said, but if they took the time to read your script, that in itself is something to be grateful for.