Congratulations! You’ve landed a paid writing gig. Finally, all of that hard work and practice is going to pay off.
Mind you, unless the person paying you to develop a screenplay, marketing campaign, novel, whatever, is simply giving away his or her money out of some form of altruistic zealotry gone mad, the benefactor is likely to want to participate in the project, to take some degree of ownership, and therefore to weigh in…with notes.
So, you’ve just received your first batch of notes.
And amazingly, they are relatively minor and/or completely in sync with concerns you had about the work and so give you further impetus to make the changes you kind of knew needed to be made.
But seriously, folks. These notes don’t make any sense. The note-giver clearly didn’t understand the nature of the project he or she assigned you. To make most or any of these changes would be to seriously weaken or outright destroy the project.
Now, what the hell do you do?
Step 1: Curse.
Yes, feel free to curse the gods for this tedious torture of your creative soul. How dare these mere mortals give you notes? The audacity to think they could contribute to this work of Art, when the very notes they provide merely highlight their ignorance.
I don’t have a problem with hosting a pity party of one (or a few close friends). The key is keeping the party short, particularly when working to deadline.
You are an Artist, and Art requires Ego and a degree of Hubris. Without hubris, how would any of us ever have the cahones to show our work to others?
The reality, however, is that we have chosen to work for others, so…
Step 2: Set aside your ego and re-read.
Put a tea-cosy on your vision for a moment and really try to understand the notes you have been given. I’ve heard it said often: What is the note within the notes?
I have found that people often can’t identify or vocalize what they specifically find troubling in a piece of Art. But rather than simply give you no notes, they try to identify things that may have some bearing on their issues…the operative word there being “may”.
If you stand back a little further and ignore the specific requests, can you see something in common between the notes, a greater theme or need from the note-givers?
Do your best to step out of your shoes and into his or hers. A change in perspective may give you a greater insight as to the real challenge the note-giver is facing with your work. You’re the writer; you have one need. A director or a marketing manager will have different needs and perspectives. Respect that.
It is possible, however, that you will still be uncertain (or clueless) as to what to do next. In that case…
Step 3: Ask questions/seek clarity.
Acknowledging the note-giver’s concerns or comments is not the same as accepting them. It does, however, give him or her a sense that you respect them and are trying to maintain a collaborative relationship. I cannot begin tell you how much this means to people and pays off in the long run.
Offer your interpretation of the issues to confirm you see things the same way as the note-giver. If you do, brilliant. You can now offer alternatives to the less palatable requests that may satisfy the note-giver’s misgivings.
If you don’t, brilliant. Now, you have the opportunity to gain insights into the note-giver’s perspectives. This will allow you to brainstorm new approaches that will satisfy both parties.
You may also find that many of the requested changes are not a high priority for the note-giver or were merely suggestions of things you could do. For all the opinions people offer throughout their lives, most individuals are incapable of giving effective notes and thus, demands, suggestions and brain farts all look alike to the person receiving them. This holds for the Artist, as well. Don’t allow your and their ignorance to drive you crazy.
So, now that you either have an understanding with the note-giver or realize you are working with a control-obsessed ego-maniacal asshole (it happens)…
Step 4: Make your changes or rollover.
What you now do with these notes hinges on a cost-benefit analysis.
Are there ways you can bring greater clarity to the story you have written that will address the needs without either incorporating the specific requests or significantly altering your vision of the story?
If yes, then you have not only improved the work, but you’ve established a wonderful rapport with the note-giver that will likely lead to future opportunities for collaboration.
If not, you need to ask what your goal is for this particular project.
If it is your magnum opus, then feel free to stick your heels in and refuse to make the requested changes, but in the knowledge that you may very well be fired and find it difficult to get work in the future. The note-giver and community may respect your stance and in the final analysis, acknowledge you were correct in your refusal, but it doesn’t happen a lot.
If, however, this project is the first step toward a longer term relationship with the note-giver and/or the hiring community, then go back to Step 2 and think harder as to how to make this work to everyone’s advantage. The onus is on you to do your best work within the framework you are given.
In this latter situation, of course, another alternative is simply to rollover and acquiesce to the requested changes. It is completely possible that the note-giver is right and you simply could not see the problems because your ego was in the way (aka you were too close to the project).
On the flipside, of course, if the note-giver was wrong, you may carry the burden of his or her errors and so find future work with that individual unlikely but then why would you want to work with that asshole again. Or, he or she could step up and take ownership of the error, in which case, you may have found a partner who will trust your instincts more the next time.
Getting notes is never easy, but it’s going to happen whenever you leave your Artistic cave. How you deal with them will have a significant impact on how often you get paid to do your thing.