How much do you listen?

Smart Writer’s Guide to Notes!

Writers get notes: suggestions about how to rewrite a particular piece of work. Notes may be as informal as your boyfriend’s comments on that last chapter or as rigorous as a sit-down with an influential producer.

When do you listen? When do you not?

Choose just a few people you trust. Select folks with experience in writing, who clearly and evidently know their way around a script or manuscript. Tune out the others.

Don’t trust your mother. While it’s great to hear the praise of those who love you, don’t rely on them for objectivity.

Know that your unfinished work is vulnerable. When your writing isn’t done, when it is still cooking, it can easily be hurt. Don’t show the work until it’s done.

Be reasonable. Bring the reasons that you made a certain choice, and listen to the note-giver’s reasoning. If you don’t have a reason for what you did, you may want to rethink it.

You can say, “I don’t know about that.” In the moment that you’re given notes, you may rush to change. It’s perfectly all right to tell the note-giver that you need time to think about it.

Work can be hurt by too much rewriting. Yes, we often hear that “writing is rewriting,” and that is true-—to a point. There comes another point when rewriting is over-writing.

Power does not bring brilliance. I can’t tell you the ridiculous notes I’ve gotten from established producers, directors, and editors. While you do need to listen up for people who have power over your career, don’t assume they are right

Understand the limits of your control. More powerful writers have more say over their work. John Patrick Shanley writes as he wants. Jane Patricia Shouldley not so much. As you gain power and prestige as a writer, your work is more fully respected.

Sometimes, it is wise to cave. Don’t be a stubborn mule. I’ve seen writers lose the opportunity to be produced on Broadway because they would not concede to a minimal change. Gauge where you are. Perfect integrity may have to come later.


Know that your work may be viewed as less ready. Sadly, because female writers are not given equal career status to men, we are seen as constant students who must be shepherded. Be prepared to offer your writing rationale, calmly and confidently.


Say no to death by honing. In the theater world, there is an insidious trend towards over-development. Your work can have too many readings, too many commentators, and too much of that destructive thing called a talk-back.

Say no to talk-backs. The audience at a reading, workshop, or even full production is called upon to give the playwright their random opinions. The playwright sits on stage. Everyone has a say. Visceral reactions become thoughts, thoughts become words that become verbal contests. Talk-backs are destructive, and while they are not likely to be banned any time soon, you can demand that your work be presented without one.

There are a million ways to write any worthy scene or chapter. Is there a “right” way? There is craft in writing; there is talent, discipline and knowledge. Assuming you have these, know that everyone has an opinion. Yours is the one that ultimately matters.

Now go write.




  1. Wow. Dodgers looks cool. What’s it all about and when?

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