I just got back yesterday from Prescott, Arizona where my short play, Rinse, was produced at a women’s playwriting festival called Dirty Laundry put together by the great Tiffany Antone. I will talk about Dirty Laundry a little later this week. In the meantime, you can also check out the Little Black Dress website to learn more about it.
Today’s subject is feedback.
I am a genius, and I like to be praised.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I will talk about feedback.
We live in a time when we are surrounded by dramatic writing. Film reviews talk about a weak third act. TV watchers blog about character arch. Everyone knows about conflict, conflict, conflict!
I think it’s cool that everyone knows how a basic story works and can rationally explain emotional catharsis. It makes me freer to break from convention to draw in an audience and reach dramatic completion.
I don’t mind feedback. I’ll either use or not. I don’t mind dumb feedback because it reflects more on the relative intelligence of the feedbacker rather than the work itself.
Recently a friend praised the feedback I give to other writers. He went on and on about how precise and articulate my comments were. He praised my intelligence. Since I am a genius and like to be praised, I let him go on and on.
This also led me to think about feedback. How can feedback be intelligent?
Wayyyy back in the late 90s, I was part of the Womens Project Playwrights Lab in New York. We had a specific way of handling feedback, and I adapted it as my own. It was a method developed by someone outside of the Lab, and if anyone could tell me whose method this is, I will happily give credit where credit is due.
The writer presents the work. Then, there is only praise. I liked this and I liked that. It should be specific. After the praise, the second part of the feedback is questions. Who, what, where, when, why? Most criticism of work in development is in the form of a question anyway, so it makes sense. Instead of saying that makes no sense, the feedbacker asks why. Usually the question part of feedback takes a long time because it leads to discussion. The third and final part of the feedback involves general comments. Since most of the criticisms become questions, the third part is usually quick. Someone might want to really specify a point. Someone might want to return to an area worthy of praise. Since comments are intended to be conclusive, it forces the feedbackers to be specific.
I still try to use this form when giving feedback. Intelligent feedback is not about my intelligence. It’s about the work.
How can one become a more intelligent feedbacker? I would say read a lot and watch a lot, so new forms and ideas are not so strange.
How can a writer receive intelligent feedback? Well, unfortunately, you can’t control other people’s minds (I’ve tried, it doesn’t work). I show early drafts to people I trust. Then, I have the next ring of people who read the piece once it’s gone a little further.
For the plays, I also have actors I trust. I can learn a lot about a character from five minutes with a smart actor. By the way, smart actors are geniuses and like praise too.