On a script I was working on recently, a bunch of notes came in really late. I was in mid-flow and had a very solid picture of what I was doing and no new notes were expected. And yet here they were and, worse still, they didn’t seem to fit with the spirit of the work we were aiming for. They threw me off. But when the notes were passed on to me, they were passed on with a message from the producer and editor that read “we totally have your back here”. We still needed to address the notes and make sure that the person who made them was happy but that extra message was a reassurance that the people I was working with all understood what we aiming for. We were a team all pushing for the same things.
It got me thinking about notes generally and what they can tell us.
We have a tendency to address notes individually. We might read them and get more horrified by each one. Or read them and nod our head at one, sigh at the next one and so on. I have written about handling notes several times here before and I think the key thing is to let them sink in and use them to make your project better. Notes are an important part of the process. They test concepts and ideas. They give an outside view that you will sorely need when you are buried in a project. And they should always be carefully considered with the knowledge that whoever made them wants to help make your project better.
But while you’re addressing the notes, keep an eye out for what they say as a whole. Are they all picking up on very similar points throughout? If so, this is less about the individual notes and more a larger picture issue you need to consider. Do the notes happen to be centred around a particular character? Perhaps it isn’t the individual events that are the problem – it could be character you need to look at. Are they all asking you to pull back on things? Or the opposite, looking for you to push things further? Maybe your tone is off, or maybe you’re not pitching it at quite the right age group.
Look for patterns in your notes. They can help you solve bigger picture problems even if the person who made them didn’t quite see it themselves. Or they can tell you about that person. Some people focus on language, on the words. Some are character people who can ignore gaping plot holes but will be fantastic at helping you spot when someone acts out of character. See if you can find the strengths of the people giving you notes and also know ways to keep them happy with your work.
One last thing to mention. If you’re constantly getting streams of notes that you are finding very difficult to tackle or integrate into your work (and it isn’t just you rejecting them out of stubbornness), it could be a sign that you see the project in a very different way to the person making the notes. If you are both aiming for two completely different things, those notes probably aren’t going to help you. That’s when you need to pick up the phone or set up a meeting and chat about the overall vision for the project. Because really, you’re a team. And you’ve got to have each other’s back on it.
Ideas often spark from very personal places. Sometimes just a silly notion. You don’t think too deeply about them at first. They’re just fun. But maybe something sticks and you start to think, there might be something in this. You enjoy working it up.
So at what point do you start seriously considering its potential audience?
I feel the answer is: as early as possible. That probably doesn’t surprise regular readers here. Thinking about the audience will inform so much of what you do. It pulls you back from the project, helps strip away some of the ego. You’re working for someone else now, not just entertaining yourself.
Think of the audience. And show the audience when you can. See how it goes down. What didn’t quite hit? What did work? Protect that – don’t lose it.
And here is another plus to consider: your audience can be a great tie-breaker. You might be torn between two directions or there may be people on your team who feel differently to you about something. Who is right? Don’t just get stubborn. Let what you know of the audience decide. Test it to back it up. Be strong on your vision but, when stuck between choices, defer to your audience.
Handling early audience feedback well will strengthen your project. It isn’t about acting on their every whim. It is about using their reactions to prevent you disappearing blindly into your own project, helping you make something great.
You’re pitching your idea, it is special to you and, wow, it’s a pretty strong idea. Amazing that nobody has thought of it already yet. So what happens if someone you pitch it to rips it off?
In reality, I think that probably never happens. For a start, the chances of nobody having thought of a similar idea to yours are negligible. Ideas are just ideas. We have them all the time and we have similar ideas all the time. It is common that many similar projects can be in development completely independently of each other. I have seen this happen many times. There was the witch year at the Cartoon Forum. And the vampire year. They didn’t rip each other off. It just happened.
More importantly, if someone loves your idea and they hadn’t already thought of it, it makes much more sense for them to just deal with you to take it further. You’re a step ahead. You’ve done the groundwork. And really, you’re probably cheaper than their own team.
I think the question you should be asking yourself is not what happens if your idea gets ripped-off but how can I be essential to realising this idea in the absolute best way possible?
That’s really what counts. An idea is just a start. It’s important but not really anything on its own. What is important is how that is developed and explored and made real. If someone could easily rip off your idea and do it better than you, that’s the problem. You need to be the one who can do it best. You need to be the one everyone wants to develop this idea with.
At times in our work life, we will have a realisation that can improve what we’re doing. We find a new focus or a new aim. It can be large overall goal or a realisation that we should be changing direction. Or it can be small thing that will make a project better, something you’re now going to look out for as the project develops.
Any realisation about a way to improve something is a positive.
But they rarely stick. Why? Because we already have our daily systems and habits. Real life throws stuff at us constantly. Remembering to check for that new thing is next to impossible. It shifts to the back of the mind and then it’s gone until insomnia decides you should remember about it in the middle of the night when you can do nothing but feel bad that you let things slip.
The flaw here is relying on your mind to hold it front and centre the entire time. Your mind is busy enough as it is. So make those reminders external. If you have something new to add as part of your routine, add it to your to-do lists. Every to-do list so you can’t forget or ignore it. Write it on post-its and stick them where you can’t miss them. Make sure those reminders are where you actually need them.
Only by having constant reminders and nudges will you really integrate new changes or a new focus into your day. Without them, the second you get busy you will shift back to the old habits all too quickly.