Careful or Careless?

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Am I receiving care-filled or careless feedback?

This is the most important question to ask yourself during the feedback process. Tough feedback should not be avoided if it’s filled with care. It’s when your respondent is being thoughtlessly “tough” that you have to take a step back. Your work is more important than any careless comment.

Essential Feedback Questions

How do you prepare to receive the best possible feedback?

You never want to give your new play, your baby, to someone for feedback without knowing exactly what you’re looking for. Before you hand your work off to someone for feedback, prepare the following questions:

  1. Why did you write this play?
  2. Why are you asking for feedback?
  3. What is the one thing you want to know about your script?
  4. What problems are you having with your script?
  5. What do you want an audience to feel about the main character?
  6. What do you want the audience to remember when they leave?

Answer these questions and you’ll be in good shape to form clear boundaries for your respondent and get tangible, practical, feedback.

Create Your Own Feedback Sheet


You’ve received some feedback. The best scenario is that the feedback is useful, helpful, and practical. It inspires you to get to work right away. The sky opens, the hallelujah chorus plays and you know exactly how to move forward.

This does not always happen.

In fact it rarely happens. For many writers, the reaction when they get feedback is What do I do with this? What do I do now?

Avoid this by creating your own feedback sheet.

Don’t hand your play off to a respondent with a Tell me what you think! Give your respondent direction. Give your respondent context. Give your respondent a specific job as they read your play. Not only is this going to make it easier on your respondent (most times if a respondent fails to give feedback or gives crappy feedback it’s because they have no idea where to start), it’s going to give you a clear picture of what’s working, what’s not and where you need to put your focus during rewrites.

The Feedback form is divided into two parts.


1. Answer this question: Where are you with this draft?

Is this a first draft? Have you been working on it for a month or a year? Are you happy with what you’ve written? Are you frustrated? What do you want to accomplish with this play? Let your respondent know exactly where you are with the draft.

Eg: This is my second draft of “The Waiting Room.” I’ve been working on it for three months. I really love my beginning but struggle a lot with the end. I want this play to really hit the audience. I want them to be dazed when they leave the theatre.

2. Give the respondent a job.
Instead of asking “What do you think?” give a specific job to your respondent. Give them ONE thing to accomplish as they read your play. Ask them –  “Do you think the ending is satisfying, why or why not?” Ask them –  “Is the main character is loveable or hard to connect to?” Ask them  – “Did you get the plot twist?”  Come up with ONE thing you want your respondent to answer.


In Part two you’re going to avoid asking for likes and dislikes. These are opinions and they’re subjective. Just become someone “likes” your work doesn’t mean it can’t be improved and just becomes someone “dislikes” your work doesn’t mean it has value. Instead ask your respondent for Impressions and Questions.

1. Impressions are important because they tell you what stays with the reader. And what stays with the reader is what is going to stay with an audience. It could be a moment, an image, a character, a tone, a line of dialogue. What resonates? Ask your respondent for 2 to 3 Impressions.

2. Questions are important because they give you something to answer. They give you a task to accomplish right away. That means you’re not sitting staring at your feedback wondering where to start. You have forward motion. Ask your respondent for 3 questions.

When you give a draft to someone for feedback include your version of this Feedback sheet. By doing so you’ll up your chances of getting that useful, helpful and practical feedback that will move your work forward.

I’ll never tell you your play sucks

Here’s why.

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.

When Feedback Bites

Rejection letters hurt. They’re depressing. They make one feel like less than a writer.

I wear a number of different hats. Along with being a writer, I also sit on the other side of the table and read submissions for my publishing company Theatrefolk. By in large, I send out far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. There are a number of reasons for that:

  • We work in a narrow niche and with specific criteria.
  • We’re a small company and don’t often double publish on the exact same topic.
  • We want to to love what we promote. So it may be a runaway hit, but it still has to grab us as a piece of theatre.

Because I’m a writer too I’m aware of how rejection letters land. They hurt. They’re depressing. They make one feel like less of a writer. It’s worse when the rejection is a form letter with no indication as to “why” a play was rejected.

For that reason I try to give specifics when a play doesn’t move forward.  A lot of the time there are other factors in play that have little to do with the quality of the work or the ability of the writer: it doesn’t fit the criteria, we just published something like it, it’s a play that should be seen rather than read.

That’s a tricky one. It’s the one that hurts writers most.



I know this because it’s the response that gets the most bite back from writers. I have been told that I’m wrong. I have been told that the audience loved the play and so should I. I have been told I don’t know what I’m doing.

It’s okay. I can take it. It doesn’t make me change my mind, but I know why a writer bites back in that case. They have the audience applause ringing in their ears. I don’t.

It’s a bit strange to choose plays to publish strictly from the page. You have to be able to see the play and hear the play without actually seeing it or hearing it. I’m pretty good at it after twenty years. It’s thrilling when you read a play and your imagination takes over. You see and hear everything fully.  The play lifts off the page, it’s an amazing moment. It comes to life.

It may be that play is a winner when it’s produced. I’ve been in adjudication situations where I read a play before I see it and have been amazed at the difference.

But you can’t choose material based on  “may be.” More often than not, my customers won’t see the play before they chose it, they’re only going on what they read. The play has to live on the page. It has to come to life in the imagination of the reader.

If you get an “it should be seen” comment from a publisher your first response may be to lash out. Bite back. Let them know they’re wrong and they don’t know what they’re doing.

Take a moment. Breathe. In fact, take three days and then ask yourself this question:

Is it important that this play is published by this company?

Is it? Really? Because if this is the company you want to house your wares then the last thing you want to do is write a nasty note telling them they’re wrong, regardless of how you feel. It doesn’t help nor is it endearing.

Instead, see if you can start a dialogue with the company, ask specific questions about issues with the script. Say thanks for the feedback and think about sending them something else. Use this rejection as the start of a relationship. And if the company doesn’t respond favorably to starting a relationship, then you know they weren’t going to be a good fit for your work anyway.

If  the company is not important, move on. Let it roll off you. You don’t need to prove your point by telling anyone you’re right and they’re wrong. What good will it do? Find another company and get your work in their hands.

How do you handle rejection comments?




Tangible Feedback

How do we avoid less than constructive criticism?

writing pic

It’s something all writers need to move toward a finished product. Feedback. How does an outside eye interpret what we’ve written? Is our intention clear? Are we headed in the right direction? Feedback acts as a mini­-window into how an eventual audience will respond.

This is easier said than done. It’s hard to find individuals who excel at constructive criticism. And bad feedback can end work on a project. How do we receive consistent, constructive feedback?

Set the Context

When you hand off your book, your play, your story for feedback the worst thing you can say is “Give me your opinion. I want to know what you think.” First of all, this puts a lot of pressure on your responder. It’s a huge task to read and give a blanket opinion. Also, asking for an opinion doesn’t provide any information for your responder. How long have you been working on this piece? Where are you in its development? What are you looking for?

Set the context for your responder. Establish what you’re doing and where you are: “This is the second draft of my first play. It looks at body image in teens, I want to market it to schools.”

And even more specifically, give your responder a job. Opinions are subjective and hard to pin down. Your responder may not like your work. That doesn’t mean they’re right, or that your work has no value. Instead of asking for an opinion, set a specific task: “Do you connect to the main character all the way through, or is there a point you lose empathy?”

A task gives your responder a single focus. That focus will give you tangible feedback you’ll be able to apply to your writing. And that will get you closer to the finish line.

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Tangible Feedback


The Worst That Could Happen


You have a draft. You have worked on it, laboured over it. You are ready to take your work
to  the next  level,  you’re ready  to take the next step, you’re ready to move forward. That
means rewrites and that means getting feedback.

And  yet you don’t take action. You’re afraid of getting feedback. You’re afraid to let go of
your work and hear what people think. What if they hate your writing? No one wants to hear that the piece they’ve worked on, laboured over, is no good.

But you must. It’s necessary. Your work will not move forward without rewrites and part of
the rewrite process is getting feedback. Feedback acts as a small window into how your
writing will impact an eventual audience. This is valuable information.

One way to defuse your fear is to take it to the extreme. What is the worst thing that could
happen? Imagine it. Visualize it. Verbalize it. Get every fear out of your head and on to the
page.  Write  them  down, make a video, draw a picture, create a collage. Write a scene
between  you  and  the person tearing your work apart. Create your fears as the absolute
worst experience you can imagine. By doing so, you will guarantee that the worst will never
happen. It can’t.

And now you know the worst, and you know that it can’t possibly happen, get your work out there. Let go of your fear. The worst is off the table and that means the only feedback you’ll receive is information that will make your work the best it can be.

Click below for a PDF of this post!

The Worst That Could Happen