S-E-X Tips for Screenwriters: Reading for Friends and Strangers “Just Say No!”

Dr. Paige TurnerDear Paige,

I‘m a giving kind of guy, so I’m always open to reading the work of other writers. I’ve put a lot into building my skills as a writer. I think this is a great way to build relationships.

But Paige, some of these scripts… umm, stink.

Despite this, I’ll kill myself on creating the best notes that I can, only to tick off my fellow writer. WTF?

And it this indicates their level of craft and storytelling, I’m not exactly eager to ask for their feedback in return.

It’s exhausting.

What’s a good guy to do?

Winded and Weary

 

Dear W & W,

There’s nothing like a good two-way street. You scratch (or massage) my back, and I’ll do you next. Tit-for-tat can be positive.

But you’re not getting any reciprocity here.

Your hard work isn’t even earning you any relationship-building brownie points.

At this rate, you will end up worse than winded, you will be depleted.

You are not alone, dear, sweet, naïve W & W.

I hear many tales of ticked off writers who have poured their energy into reading scripts for other aspiring writers in the hopes of getting feedback in return. These anecdotes inevitably turn into bitter complaints, as the reciprocity never appears, or the notes you worked hard to produce are rejected without due consideration, hotly debated, or outright dismissed.

WTF, right?

It has nothing to do with your feedback. All your hard, well-considered work and even having the writer’s best interests at heart, doesn’t mean squat.

In life, we believe, “You get what we pay for.” What costs us is intrinsically deemed more valuable than what which comes for free.

It’s the inverse of the misconception that makes garish, cheap Las Vegas buffets so popular. They give the illusion that you can heap your plate full and get more than you paid for. No matter how much “all you can eat,” turns out to be, I guarantee that you’re not coming out of the casino ahead.

Your free notes are not likely to be taken as seriously as those paid for from a consultant or even a paid anonymous contest reader. Period.

So what to do?

As tempting as it may be, you can’t go around saying, “I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script!” a lá Steve Jarrett’s sublime Seussian rant:

I will not read your fucking script

I will not read it as a lark

I will not read it in the dark

I will not read it on a drunk

I will not read it in a funk

I will not read it on a dare

I will not read it for a scare

Until they lay me in my crypt

I will not read your fucking script

But you can and should be choosy, and even stingy, with your time and energy. These are some of your greatest commodities as a creative person. You need to build and maintain your own reserves to make it in the long run.

If you are reading for others to be nice, to be liked, or because you can’t say “no,” it’s time to use Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no,” in a way that can actually make a difference.

Come up with a prepared polite response, and use it:

  • I’m flattered that you’d like my opinion. And I would value yours. Can we trade?
  • My energy is focused on my own project right now, could you ask me again in a month?
  • I’m sorry, but that genre/medium really isn’t my cup of tea/area of expertise.

Practice until this rolls trippingly off your tongue.

I’m likely to take some flack for this, but since we’re on the subject of free reading, I’m also highly skeptical about websites where writers read scripts in order to get their script read, covered, and perhaps noticed. First, remember that every one of these sites is a business in some way – a money making proposition in one way or another.

Who are they making money off of? You.

Reading for anonymous strangers to get feedback from anonymous strangers is often a zero sum game. You are trading your efforts for what’s inside the Mystery Box, hoping to save money on professional feedback from a known and respected source. You get what you pay for.

Another concern, especially with high concept pieces, is that by posting your script online, you’ve just set it adrift into the vast World Wide Web. Who knows were it will land?

Put your energy where it’s most likely to pay off.

Surround yourself with a small circle of trusted, promising writers, who are at level of writing to be able to give you positive constructive criticism in return, and read for each other. These folks are your best spotters when you’re lifting weights. You have each other’s best interests at heart. You want the others to succeed. These are also the people to turn to test drive your loglines and pitches before you start to develop an idea, much less write it.

Stop whacking blindly at piñatas, and focus on hitting the speed bag to build the skill, agility, and stamina you will need for a career.

Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon!

Reading for Free

 

 

 

 

 

Got a question for the good doctor? Ask Paige in the comments section below.

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