What is the point of feedback – and how should writers deal with it?

The most recent BBC Script Room deadline has passed and at some point over the coming months around 5% of you who sent in scripts will be getting feedback from us script readers. And, unless you’re one of winners, unfortunately that will be all. So, what are you going to do with this feedback if it ends up, like an unexpected and oddly outspoken guest, in your in-box? Put on the kettle or call the anti-social helpline? And what if you’re one of the 95% of writers who won’t be getting any feedback at all (at least this time around)?

“Make sure someone reads your work,” is something you’ve probably heard more than once. While you might agree or disagree with this, at least you can choose who this person is (though I’d avoid doting parents, competitive siblings and anyone who laughs in your face every time you pick up a pen). However, when you send a script to an organisation or it gets commissioned, you often don’t have a say in who is reading it and giving you feedback. What if you don’t trust them or they simply don’t get your work? What if two people (or more!) say conflicting things? What if you wanted to get this person and you ended up with Sally Stott?

The Writersroom and BAFTA Rocliffe recently ran a masterclass aiming to answer some of these questions. The panel included comedy writing team the Dawson Brothers – Steve Dawson, Andrew Dawson and Tim Inman, who have written on shows including That Mitchell and Webb Look and Skins and are co-writers (with David Walliams) of Big School.

“Getting notes is criticism. It’s hard not to take it personally,” Steve, Andrew and Tim say. However, they also point out that “TV is a collaborative medium. Unless you’re writing and producing yourself, nothing is done alone.” They explain that the first episode of Big School went through 23 drafts. When would this ever be necessary, you might be thinking? “Every line needs to pull its weight,” they explain. “Every actor needs to feel that those lines are interesting.”

As you might imagine, the trio sometimes gets conflicting feedback from multiple people. Rather than spend their days hitting their heads against the wall, they have developed techniques to cope with this. One is to get all the people involved in the same room and try and come to an agreement, ideally a peaceful one. Even so “you will have to make concessions,” they say. “Don’t forget, everyone giving you notes just wants to make the show a success.”

Before becoming a script editor on Casualty, writer Ray Grewal wasn’t a fan of getting feedback: “Usually there would be so many pages of notes that they seemed almost as long as the script,” he says. “Many of them would seem very minor. i.e. ‘can you make x character say ‘hello’ and not ‘hi’?’”

However, since then his opinion has changed: “Now, after spending time working as a script editor, I can quite honestly say my eyes have been opened. As part of the editorial team you’re thinking about the two scripts that have just been commissioned, the two scripts that are at 3rd or 4th draft stage and the two scripts that are currently being shot. You’re also juggling the constant changes and amendments that are being made to the serial storyline… and dealing with unforeseen [circumstances] like an actor wanting to leave the show. You really don’t have time to waste on a writer who makes a song and dance about changing the word ‘hello’ to ‘hi’ – you just want them to do it and do it quickly!”

Whether you want some feedback or not, it seems that at some point you’re likely to end up with some* – that is unless you keep you work locked in an iron box and never send it anywhere. Not all feedback will be brilliant, but not all of it will be rubbish either. Knowing when to listen to it and when to use it to wallpaper your bathroom is a talent worth developing almost as much as writing itself. And, who knows, it might even help you create something better. “We rarely get positive feedback,” Steve, Andrew and Tim conclude. “But criticism is more useful. It helps you to improve.”

* This blog has received one set of notes and gone through two drafts.

Written for BBC Writersroom

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One thought on “What is the point of feedback – and how should writers deal with it?

  1. […] What is the point of feedback – and how should writers deal with it?. […]

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