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Ask the Expert: The Birth of Your First Draft

Question: What kind of feedback should I seek after the first draft is done?

You got to the end of your first draft!

Congratulations. You just gave birth!

Er, thanks… Is my child any good? I hope it’s a genius. Maybe it’s an idiot? How can I find out?

Truthfully, a first draft is probably a little bit of all of the above. But it is a genuine achievement to finish a script. A hallowed one; we have harnessed the magic of our minds to create something that never existed before.

You must celebrate this, in whatever way feels good to you. It conditions the mind to take on the unknown. To aim high and long. A good reward trains you to stay with your task through the dark hours of literary pregnancy - the gloomy ‘what have I done to myself?’ of page 20 – the horror of page 50 telling you you have to go back to page 10 and fix things, etc. It is a mental marathon. You are a champ just committing to the process - not really knowing quite what kind of child your labor will bring out of you.

Yeah yeah, but is it any good?

The Eskimo sculptor says he discovers and releases the creature in the rock as he whittles away at it. I think writing is a bit like that. The job of our first draft is to get a grip on the big picture. Discover our themes, find the hearts of our characters – hopefully lay in some great plot discoveries, long before your freshly minted vision gets near any buyer. Now it is the time to get some good feedback and sense how others see your work.

At Trilogy we call these Trusted Reads, and the people we seek out to take our new baby and check it over, we call, Story Midwives. These are people who understand the pain of literary birthing and encourage you to push. You probably know who these people are in your life.

“Oh… That’s called burping - they all do that!”

Stay away from the bullies - the arrogant know-it-alls - people who have no sensitivity. You need your first feedback to come from caring readers who are trying to help you with your own creative child, not those who are looking to imprint their own mark on it.

When a story midwife reads, they are helping you plug your holes, tighten the reins, clarify your point of view. All with the goal of eventually making your child strong enough to walk upright, feed itself… and maybe keep you in your old age.

I learned early in my career, when I had the negative personas read my new stuff they often only saw my creation as half-empty. Some seemed bound to tell me how wrong I was for even thinking of my story - a couple of depressive times I really felt like throwing my script in the garbage! One day we will have to face the entire palette of buyer types – but for now, control the process.

Later, when your child has muscled up – been educated and can stand on its own, it can face these critics. But now you are still learning what and whom you have born into this world.

We can get too close to our work – miss links where a little extra logic can help readers understand our love and fascination with the work. A good suggestion is one that gets us writers excited. It lights up a truth in our heads that deepens the work… It makes you want to quickly get back and seed this new insight into the script.

It is amazing how helpful and much more powerful your script will be when you’ve had a pair of fresh eyes catch the few kinks, clunkers and clarifications that it needs.

And a note to supportive Story Midwives everywhere: Please, tell us parents how handsome the kid looks before you point out that the diaper might need changing. It opens us up for your input.

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