A Big Thumbs Up

Sarah Weinman is asking writers over on her excellent blog to share how they felt after getting their first bad review.  Here’s the story I shared:

Maybe it’s because I come from TV…so I’m used to getting unwanted "notes" (ie criticsm) on my writing from everyone (actors, agents, managers, directors, psychic colorists, craft services etc.) and everywhere (studio, network, talent agency, viewers, the press, my pool man, my mother, etc.). I don’t ever take it personally. When it comes to reviews, I read them with a smile, whether they like my book or not. Everyone is allowed their opinion…I’m certainly not shy about expressing mine.

My favorite review ever was from Rolling Stone, calling an episode of BAYWATCH that I wrote the worst hour of television in the history of the medium. And they were being gentle. I loved the review… probably because they were right.

But reviewers…well, at least the publications they work for… can be truly schizo. For instance, Publishers Weekly gave MY GUN HAS BULLETS a bad review… and then, a year later, praised that same book as "riotously funny" in the midst of a rave review for the sequel, BEYOND THE BEYOND. Go figure.

In TV, you develop a very thick skin. I had a star tell me a script Bill Rabkin & I wrote was a "complete piece of shit." I just smiled and said cheerfully, "Gee, I guess you didn’t like it much. What troubled you?" Turns out what troubled him was a great scene one of his co-stars had  that The Star wasn’t in. His idea of fixing the script was a) deleting the scene or b) deleting all the fun and character from the scene or c) making the scene all about his character and what his character might be doing, thinking and feeling.

I had another executive tell me another one of our scripts would be  a hell of a lot better with a teen suicide in it.  And she wasn’t joking.  She just felt a teen suicide somewhere in the story would add drama.

Another exec once told me his only note on a script we wrote was that he’d like me to swap Act One with Act Three.  He wasn’t joking, either.

Now these aren’t exactly reviews, per se, but they are still comments on my writing. Severe, ulcer-inducing comments. 

What I’ve learned the hard way is that you can’t take these notes, or reviews of any kind, personally or you won’t survive in this business… whether you’re toiling in TV or publishing… or, as in my case, both.

I’ve found some negative reviews, especially of our TV shows, helpful in refining the franchise or spotting weaknesses in our story-telling.

But it also cuts both ways…if you start believing all your positive reviews, you are just as screwed as if you take all the negative ones to heart.   The good reviews feel better, but they can be just as destructive if you start believing your writing is perfect and you’re God’s gift to TV or literature…

3 thoughts on “A Big Thumbs Up”

  1. I have a simple policy on reviews of our stuff — I believe all the bad ones, and assume the positive ones were written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  2. Lee,
    I’ve found I can weather the tough reviews, painful as they may be, but I am devastated by another type of review. When the reviewer utterly misses what I was doing, or the unique or radical approach I was attempting, or the theme I was winding through my work, then I do grieve. That’s because I failed to communicate. At bottom, our business is to convey to other human beings every nuance we are trying to convey. So even if a reviewer is kind, if he truly missed what I was doing, it can only be my own failure.


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