Daily Dojo

And While You’re Over Here, You Mind Grabbing That End Of The Couch?

I’ve just finished my newest play and handed it out a small group of select reader folk for feedback and what-have-ya, so I thought I’d take a moment to share with the younger white belt writers in the Dojo the PROTOCOL for handing out scripts and what to expect and appreciate from a reader / friend.

It’s simple, really. Expect nothing and appreciate everything.

Just to make sure you got that, I’m going to repeat it.

Expect nothing and appreciate everything.

Are we clear on that? Okay, here’s WHY.

Anyone reading a script for you is doing you a favor. They are taking time out of their lives to read a script, a work in progress, and it’s not something they’re getting paid for (though there are folk who do that) or even obligated to do. It’s something you’ve asked them to do and if, by chance, they get busy and don’t have time to read it after all, that’s the way it is.

It’s like asking someone to help you move.

I’m being a bit clever with that, because sometimes reading a new script can be real fun and helping someone move very rarely is, even when a keg of Budweiser is bought to grease the skids.

But it is work, mind you, a person is volunteering their time and energy and you need to remember that.

So even if they hate it, even if they hadn’t the slightest idea what you wrote and maybe got your story confused with the skinamax flick they watched the night before on cable, you smile, say thank you and buy ‘em a cup of coffee.

Just appreciate the fact that they read the script / play / novel at all, and if they didn’t read it but lied, appreciate that they went to the trouble of creating a modest fiction about it all their own.

Appreciate it because reading something new is tough, especially a play or screenplay, because both of those aren’t really meant to be read, they’re meant to be seen and heard. It’s hard to read them and see the forest and not the trees, it’s work. A new novel is even more difficult because it’s three hundred unbound pages of text and looks like a term paper.

Now if you’re good at what you do, hopefully you make the experience of reading your work more enjoyable for the reader than moving furniture. But bear in mind that it’s early in the process and there will be errors and logic lines and shit you missed because you were so pleased to be done you couldn’t wait to send it out.

What I do, once it’s finished to the point where I feel comfortable sharing with trusted readers, is I contact those I’d like to hear from, ask if they have time and would like to read something new, pass it onward and forget that I ever did it. Just forget and don’t think about it, don’t have that look in your eye when you see your friend and by all means do not say “Have you read the new play yet?” with desperate eagerness each and every time you speak to them. Just let it go.

Try to forget you even wrote anything (and you should be working on your next project anyway, writers should always have more than one iron in the fire, keeps us occupied and out of jail) until someone mentions it to you.

If someone did read it, got back to you and and didn’t like it, it’s gonna sting, I’m not gonna lie to you, it always stings. But smile and thank them anyway. If they read it and loved it, do the same. It just won’t sting. It’ll be a short-term buzz that you will wish to experience again, but that also is not the point of the reader, otherwise Ma would be the only one ever reading anything, right?

What you’re looking for is folk who understand the work you’re doing and can offer responses that help you to improve upon it (and karma being a boomerang, you should do the same for them when asked) before sending it out into the cruel harsh winter of the real world.

Now obviously if you’ve given someone five different works to read over time and they’ve never read a single one, it may be time to stop giving them material.

But a friend should be a friend whether they’re willing to suffer your work or not.

And if you have a friend / reader who reads everything but their feedback never makes sense and just confuses you, it may be time to look for more readers (and Ma’s got enough to do anyway, right?) and whatever else, don’t tell that person. Not everyone gets everyone and they did you a favor simply by reading your work, even if it went over their head or under their radar.

If you find people who DO get you, DO help you improve and support your work with enthusiasm and balanced criticism, do more than appreciate them, worship the ground they walk on (and help them move, if they need) because you’ve found an important part of your audience and a writer who doesn’t know his or her audience is a writer lost in the wilderness.

And that’s what these first few readers do for you, the writer, they help you find your way in the most efficient manner possible to YOUR audience, to the audience who will love and appreciate the work you’ve taken time to craft. They’re your guides, so listen to them, even when you disagree or it stings, and find those guides that best help you. And don’t forget to return the favor. When you find folks like these, you do more than buy them a cup of coffee. You help them move if they need it, whether there’s a keg involved or not. And you thank them in the program notes.

Appreciate the folk who take the time to help you out. But no one owes you anything, don’t forget that.

There are exceptions, obviously, your agent should read anything you give to them (and if they’re not reading it, that says something else entirely) if you have a deadline and need something proofed by a certain day, kindly let your reader friends know and check in right before that time. But never, ever lash out if at the last second life steps in and they are unable to help you out by reading something new. At the end of the day, it’s your house and up to you to make it move, with or without your friends and readers.

Anyone that shows up, even if they drop a lamp or break the recliner, they’re your first readers who are doing you a favor by showing up and helping with the heavy lifting, so appreciate them for it.

3 Responses to “ And While You’re Over Here, You Mind Grabbing That End Of The Couch?”

  1. Joshua James Says:

    And by the way, lest I come off as an all-knowing, compassionate Buddha who is never rattled by inane feedback and critique, rest assured that I am not. The lessons I share above were learned the hard way and something I still struggle with to this day.

    And readers have a protocol as well that should be followed but often is not, but that’s another post for another day.

    One thing I think that I DO do well is, once I’ve passed a script onward to a reader, I let it go and it rarely becomes an issue between my friend and I - so if they read it, fine, if they don’t, fine too. And if something is just not to someone’s taste, I take that well.

    One thing I really need to work on is debating logic / structure points dramaturgically. I can get passionate on that subject and while I strive to remain objective, it’s often a pitched battle.

    Sometimes those kind of dramaturgical smackdowns are very positve, however, and can yield really positive results and can be great for the work. You just should be sure of your dance partner before you tango - it’s not really something to whip out on a first date, you know?

  2. mattj Says:

    Hi Josh, I’m not a writer as you well know. That said, I just wanna let you know that I love reading your posts on the writing business such as this. Becuase it’s not so much the “business,” it’s all that other stuff we often don’t talk about aside from “buiness” or “art,” even so much. Like your post on director’s changing your play too much. stuff like that. So, thank you, great stuff!

  3. Joshua James Says:

    thanks Matt, I’m glad for your comment - I really enjoy your blog also - I guess I’m a little obsessed with some of the littler things about the process, but what can a guy with OCD do about it? ;)

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