Learning to Read
Receiving and giving feedback on writing is always weird. On one hand, people are asking you to tell them what’s wrong with their work. You owe it to them to be honest. But on the other hand, they’re usually showing it to you because they think they’re done. They might know, intellectually, that they have dozens of drafts to go. But anyone who shows their writing to someone else has to think, on some level, that it’s perfect and can’t be improved anymore. It’s a delicate balance.
I was talking to a professor of mine, who happens to be a pretty big name in the theatre world. He just ﬁnished working on a new Broadway musical, and now he’s writing a play about his life that’s going to be produced by one of the largest regional theatres in America. This guy spends a lot of his time reading drafts of new plays, giving and receiving notes. The theatre world is notorious for its long script development processes, and it’s not uncommon to go endlessly back and forth about a single line of dialogue.
He was talking about his revision process with one of his favorite collaborators, and he said something very interesting. When he looks for feedback, he doesn’t necessarily seek out the best writers. Instead, he works with people who know how to read drafts. People who can look at something that is objectively not good, but can see it for what it can become. This is a completely different skillset than reading or writing. It’s the ability to look past spelling mistakes, bad dialogue, and ﬂat jokes and instead give notes on the bigger picture. Because if someone is too nit-picky about a ﬁrst draft, that could stop a writer from ever continuing the project.
I’ve begun to pick up a few entertainment-related skills in the last few years, but reading drafts is a new one for me. Now I’m on a mission to get better at reading things for what they could be. To look at each project and not say “what’s wrong with this?”, but “what’s unique about this, and how can we make it more prominent?” I always want people to do that for me, so it’s only fair that I learn to reciprocate.
Writer and Reviser