When I first started out, I had two vivid negative experiences.
- An artistic director told me “Never send me another play.” He didn’t want to see my work ever again.
- A second artistic director returned a play to me (which I had submitted for a three week development project) with the note “There is not enough time to fix this play.”
Luckily I’m stubborn. These two experiences only strengthened my resolve to keep writing. Even though as individual events they were devastating, I never considered giving up a writing life. Maybe because I didn’t have a back up plan! If those AD’s were trying to get me to stop writing, too bad.
I don’t understand the impetus to take someone down with their criticism. It’s not necessary and it’s cruel.
Now, that’s not the same as…..
…telling someone they’re great when their play needs work. Sunshine and roses when they’re not warranted is not productive and doesn’t help a playwright move forward. That should be the goal of all criticism: comments that help a writer move forward with their work. If your comments are merely emotion, and negative emotion at that, what’s the point?
The question then may be: “But what if the play is beyond help? Aren’t you doing the writer a disservice by encouraging them to work on it?”
Who am I to make that call? The plays those ADs determined “beyond help” have both gone on to long lives. What if I had listened to them? What I can do is make sure I’m clear about the work that needs to be done (usually via questions) and what the playwright can do to move forward.
We all need feedback.
It’s a vial part of the writing process. Writers need feedback to grow their plays. That outside eye can be the turning point between writing a good play or a great play. But feedback can be a tricky tightrope – you have to find the right person. Sometimes you get unexpected feedback you didn’t want to hear – I received a feedback form from a contest once (a form I didn’t ask for) in which my play was given a D and scrawled across the bottom of the page were the words “I did NOT like this play.”
We spend so much time on our words that it hurts if they’re not loved unconditionally. It’s easy to only want praise or to disregard feedback that isn’t what we want to hear.
Feedback is a two way street. If I’m going to take care with the comments and questions I give a writer, I expect them to handle those comments with care. But if I’m the writer, and the feedback I receive is unkind with little care, then I toss it aside. That feedback is not worth my time. And that’s how you should handle unkind feedback.