Yesterday, I had the horrifying pleasure of letting other people give me notes on a script I’m working on. It was not finished, nor was I exceptionally proud of what I had written. However, I had agreed to share some work in my writing group so I did.
One of the things that was both helpful and humbling is that I had broken some rules I had professed in earlier blog posts. Most notably, I Guess I Should Talk About Tone. The work as a whole is going to be a rather light-hearted fantasy/comedy set against a political back drop.
The problem is that my first scene was a rather intense scene of government officials denying food to starving people. The logic was that I wanted to establish my villain as the villain he is so as to make my heroes more sympathetic. Unfortunately I essentially lied to my audience about what sort of tone they should expect from the rest of the script, and this is going to be something I need to change in future drafts.
I tell you this story because I KNOW on an intellectual level that this is a bad idea. You need to be clear about your tone. I’ve criticized other movies that broke this rule. I lectured you all on this topic just a few days ago. And yet I made the same mistake in my own writing. It’s ridiculously easy to separate abstract knowledge about good writing and bad writing from your actual writing. The way your brain works in the moment writing scripts and piecing them together is different than the way it works when I’m critiquing other people’s writing or trying to brainstorm writing tips for all of you.
No matter how much you think you know about writing, you are not immune to making mistakes. No matter how much you think you know, you will never be able to write a perfect first draft. Giving trusted critics the opportunity to call you out on your bullshit is an integral part of the process.
All too often, writers think they can revise without this outside help. They’re scared. They don’t want to show their work to anyone until they’re confident it’s perfect. And I suppose this is fine if you’re only writing for personal enjoyment and fulfillment and are not terribly concerned with the quality of your writing. But if you’re actually looking to improve and be somewhat good at this craft, you NEED the input of others. It will not matter how many books or blog posts you’ve read about writing. It will not matter how many times you’ve read your own writing. You need to have the courage to ask for notes and the humility to take those notes seriously.