One rampant problem common amongst amateur writers is that they cannot take criticism. They are so close to their work, they cannot bear hearing anything but praise for what they’ve written, even if it isn’t the truth.
This tendency isn’t completely their fault. The problem with writing as a career is that everything we write is a reflection of who we are. Every plot decision and story choice and character is borne out of our own personality and life experiences.
The conflict is this:
Writing is an intensely personal pursuit. Filmmaking is all about collaboration.
And in order to be a successful screenwriter, you must distance yourself from your script. It must become something separate from yourself, an entirely separate being. You have to be able to examine it critically and be able to pick which feedback makes sense for your plot. But how do you do this?
- Keep coming up with new ideas. The moment you complete a script, think up a completely new idea. Get excited about that new script. Begin casting it in your head. Writers often feel a sense of desperation and cling to a project that may or may not be their greatest idea. If your concept and story choices just didn’t work, you need a new idea to move onto anyways. Live in the future, and always be writing the next greatest script.
- Don’t write yourself as the protagonist. The other day I was bouncing script ideas off of my Dad, and he kept referring to the main character as “you”. Here’s the problem: if I internalize the main character, she becomes an idealistic version of myself. And then it’s ten times harder to throw obstacles in her path, and a billion times harder to give her any substantial flaws. There’s a quote out there that says writers put a piece of themselves into every character that they write. There is nothing wrong with this! Just do your best to make your protagonist a different version of yourself, something separate that you can view objectively.
- Finish your first drafts — and then hide them! After your first draft, PUT AWAY YOUR SCRIPTS FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS. I know you want to edit. I know you want to make it perfect. Trust me, I always feel the same way. But you cannot be objective about what you just wrote! Instead, go start a new idea. DISTANCE YOURSELF from your creation!
- Investigate the meaning of certain feedback. If ten people who read your script say the first ten pages are “boring” then you have a problem. Don’t get turned off by feedback like this. Don’t shut down and tell people they are wrong. Instead, figure out WHY people thought it was boring, and possible solutions to the problem. Is your beginning to slow? Are there large blogs of action text? Do you need to break up some scenes and start with a bang? Are the characters bland cardboard cutouts? Will people care about them? Should you make them more sympathetic? The feedback you receive may be unhelpful, but if you dig for what your readers REALLY meant, you will be doing yourself a huge favor.
In the end, it all comes down to developing your craft while protecting your artistic talent. Screenwriting is incredibly subjective, and there rarely is 100% consensus on what makes a great script. But if you keep your head up and never stop writing, you will get to where you want to be!