To continue to grow as writers, we need objective feedback. Feedback can come in many forms, but early on in your screenwriting process, it’s probably coming from you. For most writers, getting to a screenplay draft that you feel comfortable sharing takes multiple rewrites and drafts. But can you trust yourself to give yourself constructive and sometimes critical feedback during the early stages of your own screenplay? There are some techniques for those of you screenwriters who are not so sure that you can dish it AND take it.
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We started by asking creative-extraordinaire Bryan Young how he maintains consistency in his day-to-day writing process and output. He writes screenplays, books, podcasts, and articles for publications such as StarWars.com, SyFy.com, and HowStuffWorks.com, so he is no stranger to receiving critical comments on his creative work. He said the first step toward consistent, quality writing is taking a good, hard look in the mirror.
We naturally have an emotional connection to what we’re writing – whether that’s because of the subject matter, which is personal to us, or because of the time we’ve spent on something. No one likes to throw out their work or come to the brutal realization that the work just isn’t good enough.
So how do you take an objective look at your screenplay and know where to make improvements? If you’re not ready to share it with someone else just yet, use these tips to take another pass on your screenplay draft through a lens of objectivity.
How to Be Objective About Your Writing:
1. Make time for a break
Try not to work under deadlines where you leave no time to walk away from your screenplay and let it breathe. You’re doing yourself a disservice to attempt to cram in several drafts in a short amount of time because you’ll be too close to the work. You need to step back, work on something else, then return to your draft later so you can see it more objectively.
2. Throw it out (or put it somewhere else)
“Kill your darlings” is a popular term you hear in screenwriting, but this doesn’t just apply to getting rid of unnecessary characters and plot points. You must be willing to throw out anything that doesn’t work, and that could mean pages of script, plot points you loved, and more. If it’s not right, don’t try to force it. Start again with fresh eyes.
Type into a new page when you edit, so you don’t lose your original draft and work. You’ll be more likely to delete, rewrite, and edit when you know you can always go back later. It also helps to retype your original script to see if it sounds the same to you as it did the first time. You can also catch mistakes and shortcomings this way.
If you need to delete something you love, paste it into a new “Use This Later” document so that you can use that clever dialogue and those awesome characters in future screenplays!
3. Listen to your gut
Our emotions about our screenplays can get in the way of what we know to be true. Listen to your gut – if you’re feeling torn, it’s probably a sign that something needs to change and that you’re caught somewhere between knowing this to be true and not wanting to put in the work or make the hard choices. Don’t let laziness and the threat of more work get in the way of greatness.
4. Test your objectivity
When you’re ready, and after you’ve already made critical notes of your own work and where things need to change, run it by a friend or family member whose advice you trust. Do they agree with your notes to yourself? If you know someone else will have to corroborate your feedback, you’ll be less likely to go easy on yourself. And, if they agree, you’ll have better trust in your gut when it comes to the next screenplay you write.
Facing yourself and your hard work is not an easy task. It can be pretty painful. But growth comes from being uncomfortable, and you want to know the greatest thing about reflecting on your creative pursuits? You get to tell yourself where you need to improve AND where you’re already doing great! Don’t forget that second part.
As author and entrepreneur James Altucher said, “Honesty is the best way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure.”
We want nothing more than to see you succeed, screenwriter!