Are You Always Reacting to Life Instead of Responding to It

Some of you know I have been writing a movie about prison guards. After showing it to family and friends, I asked two professional writers to read it. One was a friend and one was a colleague. This is a project I have worked on a lot. It's been a play then it got funding for a movie. I read books on writing scripts. I went to Millhaven Institution (a maximum security prison) for a tour. I rewrote and rewrote it, and talked it through.

So when I handed it over I thought this is likely good to go. Okay, I'll be honest: I thought it was brilliant, and funny.


Then I got some notes. First from my friend who was gentle but clear; "What does the main character want?"

I told her, to which she replied, "You can't tell us that, you have to show us."

Oh dear.

Hadn't I done that? How could I have overlooked this? Don't I teach this? I mean how could I miss it? Oh gosh, I suck.

And then common sense took over and said, "Let's wait for the second opinion."

When the second writer weighed in she said the same thing. Her notes were even more bluntly put--even more direct. My mind was scrambling to fix and cut and edit. I was panicking inside.

I can't believe this. I really, really, suck.

Yet the second writer stayed on the phone with me for an hour. Although she was direct she asked questions and proposed solutions. She coached and suggested ways to approach the story. I couldn't get defensive because she was helping me.

But still, when I got off the phone I felt defeated, "I can't rewrite this again. In fact, I won't. Damn it. I am too old. I suck. I really, really suck!"

However I have these new rules about.....nearly everything.

Wait 72 hours before you make any decision. This includes purchases for more than 100 bucks, responding to emails from an ex-husband, and promising kids cash.

Take 3 days to get the emotion out of it. Take time to stop reacting and get a healthy response. (Healthy response? Well I read that in the deluge of self- help books on my shelf that I didn't wait 72 hours to buy.)

Besides I know when two professional writers give essentially the same feedback, they must be on to something.

I knew I needed to wait, to let it percolate and just see how it would shake down before disassembling it. Give it time. It takes time to get new ideas and answers from the creative process.

But I hate time. I really hate it.

I waited and skated and walked in the woods and did marketing on a new product. (Ironically I was writing class lessons for this new online writing workshop. Yes that workshop where I am teaching folks to trust the process, oh yeah the universe is truly hilarious some days.)

I spoke in Thunder Bay, volunteered, and I waited...72 hours.

And then I waited 8 days, 9 days... 10 days.

And then, on Thanksgiving Day, I sat down to enjoy a turkey dinner beside my brother-in-law (a former prison guard, as it happens) and he asked me how my movie writing was going.

I mumbled, "I am still figuring it out, you know. I suck."

Then he started talking about how he felt being retired--how being a prison guard had got to him. He talked about what it felt like to leave after 25 years, and how he was glad to be gone.

During his monologue he said two things that made me realize what was missing in my script. Without meaning to, he gave me what the main character wanted.

It does mean that I have to put it up on the hoist and take the structure apart.

But, that's how it goes sometimes. You wait a bit, skate a bit, worry a lot, and then the right answers show up over a plate of turkey and stuffing.

Have you got a project on the go that is beating you? How do you react to feedback? Do you let it defeat you? Or are you able to let things simmer and be playful?