As essential as it is to get feedback on your work—from co-creators, production team members, focus groups, etc.—does anyone really enjoy this part of the creative process?
Receiving notes the wrong way, or from the wrong person, can frustrate your process and even kill your enthusiasm and passion to create. Which notes will really serve the project and which ones will only torment you?
Here are five suggestions for how to implement notes once you’ve gotten them:
1. Don’t take it personally
Expect notes. Collaboration involves many perspectives, and you simply can’t anticipate everyone’s input until you’ve laid your soul bare and subjected it to the observations of others. If you envisioned wowing the room and you didn’t, it’s natural to feel deflated. But keep your cool.
The time to respond to all the notes you’re getting is subject to any number of factors, but in general the time is never RIGHT NOW. Take a moment. Shake it off, give yourself a pep talk. Then pour a glass of bourbon and get back to work.
2. Start with the obvious
Some notes will resonate—the notes you hear and think, Man, I wish I would have caught that. If you can already see the benefit of any piece of feedback, don’t bother thinking about it. Make like Nike and Just Do It.
In the case of notes you disagree with, ask others for input. Keep an ear out for reactions that match or disagree with each other. Hearing the same note from multiple people can guide you toward the important changes.
3. Make a mess
Some notes will require major reconfiguring. Daunting when you’re invested in preserving certain elements that you love! But protecting the ‘done’ parts will keep you from fully engaging with the possibilities. Try to adopt an open mind.
“Save As” is our friend. Keep the old version, make a new version and splash around in it. Trust that the same imagination and taste which allowed you to come up with those brilliant ideas in the last draft will aid you on this one too.
4. Keep it in perspective
Which notes should you focus on now, and which will are tethered to big-picture changes? If there’s a problem with act two, but you’re already planning to re-write the protagonist’s arc, chances are that problem will fix itself—or at least create a different set of problems!
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds, obsessing over minutiae but ignoring the larger goals you started off with. Consider the outline, the dynamics, the major reversals, setups, and payoffs, and lean on the opinions of people you trust who aren’t as close to the project as you are. Once you can step back and view it from a macro perspective, the general shape of things will inform your next moves.
5. What if funding is attached to a bad note?
99% of the time, there is a way to satisfy a financier and stay true to your vision. Seek trusted input from a confidant who’s good at strategizing solutions. Try to dig deeper and get to the heart of the note.
Some notes are not meant to be taken at face value, but rather they are suggested because of an underlying sense that something is amiss. This is frequently the case when dealing with business-minded partners who have less experience crafting stories. There is a time to dig in your heels and fight for your choices, but that’s usually a last resort, after you’ve tried more political solutions.
No matter the role, everyone gets notes at some phase of production — producers, writers, actors, editors, production designers… especially composers (notes, get it?).
Anyway. The point is, most people giving you notes have gotten notes themselves! And chances are, you will soon be on the other side of that feedback exchange, so let this process make all of us better note-givers.