It’s after a reading of your play, and you may be faced with many notes of things said by actors and audience members. There may be a mix of comments both positive and negative. Some comments may confuse you completely—you’re not even sure into which category they fit. How do you process that feedback and what do you do with it all?
Step One: Breathe. And, perhaps, relax a bit. Recognize that everyone thinks they know how to make everyone else’s work better. Or, they think everything is great and don’t know of any helpful suggestions. So, understand that most feedback is not going to be of much use. Looking at everything after sleeping on it or taking a few hours’ break is best.
Step Two: Filter. Sorting through all the comments and questions about your play to decipher which things really are helpful and can improve your work is the key to getting the most out of a reading. Aunt Bessie’s comment about one actor’s nasal quality is irrelevant and has nothing to do with your writing. So, discard any comments such as these.
Step Three: Find Patterns. Are there many comments about the same moments in your work? The same scene is getting a lot of the attention? Can you tell from the comments that people are confused about what is going on or with the character relationships? Perhaps that scene is working well and other moments around it are where you have issues. The key here is to recognize that when several comments about the same part of a play are received that you, as the writer, need to examine that moment.
Step Four: Analyze. Go back and really look at the moments and scenes around which there were multiple comments. Ask yourself questions about how that scene fits into the greater whole of the work. Is it helping further to advance the story? Is it giving your characters an opportunity for growth and change?
Step Five: Re-write. Ninety percent of writing is really re-writing. Few writers, even ones with Pulitzers, get things written in a publishable form in the first draft. As a writer, you need to be prepared to make edits and changes to your work. This is a part of the job, the process. Embrace it instead of being afraid of it.
After you finish your re-writes, have another reading with a mix of people who have heard the earlier version and those who are completely new listeners to your work. This will give you multiple perspectives on the piece. Those who have heard a previous reading can let you know if the new version works more fluidly than the last one. New listeners can bring a fresh perspective without the bias of having heard another version. Once you have gone through a few readings and re-writes of a work and get it to a place with which you are happy, then you can begin submitting the work to theatres and contests.