Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A piece of advice about notes for the first-time writer

This is probably the best advice in the world I could give to new writers. Have you just completed your first script? Do you think it's better than sliced bread? Are you telling everybody it's the best thing ever written?

I know you did because we all did. Everybody falls in love with that first script. Everybody feels like it's the most brilliant thing ever put on paper. EVERYBODY.

Know why? You're proud. You finished. You worked your ass off and devoted hours upon hours to this thing and it's a creation of your mind. It's an accomplishment, and now you want your reward.

You give it to your mom. She loves it! Look what her baby did! Yay! You give it to your friend, the one who writes poetry. OMG this is the best script he's ever read. It's the only one he's ever read, but man it is amazing. You're feeling pretty good. Everybody says it's great! I'm great! This is the best screenplay ever and I'm going to sell it for a jillion bazillion dollars!

Then you give it to a screenwriter and you just know you're going to get notes like "OMG I wish I was as good as you" and "This is the most amazing thing I've ever read and I'm going to pass it to my agent right away!" You wait, champagne chilling in the fridge. Fortune and fame are on their way.

Then you get the notes.

What happened was, the writer read your script and began writing notes. This is a huge favor because they really wanted to work on their own project, but they decided to take some time to help out a new writer because, hey, somebody helped them once. They set aside time in their day and went page by page, explaining what needs to be fixed because that's what you said you wanted. You were looking for notes, real notes, not just a pat on the back. So the writer tells you what doesn't work. Some things work, but really, this script is terrible. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but yeah, you've got a lot of work to do. This is not the genius you thought it was.

Now at this moment you have a choice. You can sit down with those notes and go over them carefully and think about them and thank your lucky stars someone took the time to tell you all this before you embarrassed yourself. It'll take a lot of work, but in the end it will be so worth it when you know you have a great script.

Or you can get angry, throw things and tell the screenwriter to go to hell because they don't know shit about shit and you're a genius and you're going to make a jillion bazillion dollars because your mom and your poet friend think this is brilliant and they're way smarter than some asshole who wrote some movie about a giant killer eel that ran on SYFY last week at 2am. Fuck that writer. They don't understand your vision.

Here's my advice: Don't do the second thing.


  1. and there's also: if this asshole is so smart, why aren't they Wm Goldman?
    Well, William Goldman ain't here. I am. I'm the best screenwriter you know, so shut yer pie-hole.
    Sometimes, you just gotta tell them to start over- they could make the story work, but is it worth the trouble?
    That's the issue: is it the idea that sucks or the writing?

  2. Did someone actually say that to you about not being William Goldman? Because that would be super douchebaggy.

  3. Sally Screenwriter3:04 PM

    Writer 1. "I'm sorry, what are your produced credits again?"

    Writer 2. "None."

    Writer 1. "And I should listen to you why?"

    writer 2. "That's very good question."

  4. Huh. Well, Sally, it's interesting that those unproduced credits didn't stop you from asking for their advice when you thought they would lavish praise on you.

  5. Option 3 - You can murder them, thus slightly increasing the ratio of people who like your script to people who don't like your script.

  6. As a further to this: I recommend thanking them (profligately) for the notes, setting the whole thing aside, writing something *else* that you'll now think is the most awesome thing ever, and then coming back to the first script. That way you can look at their notes, agree with what you did wrong, and more calmly fix it (or replace it) without feeling bad that the best thing you've written so far isn't so great.

  7. Oh, I could tell you stories. My "favorite" is the jackass who responded to my notes with a long rant that concluded thusly, "I've already thrown out the printed copy and deleted your email. Never again."

    Is it cool if I add you to my blogroll?

  8. At first I thought you were saying he asked to add you to his blogroll after his rant. I thought that was funny. But then I realized it wasn't in quotes.

    So of course!

  9. LOL@Evan

    This is a wonderful post, Emily. I remember Steve & I's first script was about a vampire cop and we finished and we thought we were just the coolest things in the history of cool things ... until we found out that we weren't.

    (Well, we were, but the script sure wasn't.)

    Great post.


    (Word verification: mantint. Suntan lotion for guys.)

  10. VC - I don't even think William Goldman thinks he's as good as William Goldman. In other words, his legend is larger than life. But he's a damn good writer yet I'm sure he has to rewrite and takes notes just like the rest of us.

  11. :) that is hilariously accurate. Ah, those were the days. Ignorance was blissful. The uphill journey is the best part though :p

  12. hahaha poor cat, there is not anything more terrible than be thirsty, having drink so close and don't be able to reach it.


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