Is it any good?
One of the hardest things starting out in any field is knowing if what you’re doing is actually any good. We are so often completely unable to evaluate our own work and the closer we are to it the harder it is. Is that nagging doubt a sign we shouldn’t send in that script or submit that drawing? What if it’s actually pretty good? What if we think it’s good but that’s just pure delusion and we need to bin it and start from scratch?
How do I know if it’s any good?
I faced this so often in the early days of being a children’s writer. I was tortured by self-doubt and yet, at other times, so stubborn about things I thought would turn out great on screen. I couldn’t effectively evaluate the quality of my work.
Now when you are just getting started, the quick fix solution seems obvious: have someone else evaluate it. This can be a really good idea, especially if you are giving it to someone who is an expert in their field. I was fortunate on Fluffy Gardens to have a wonderful script editor who helped me become a better writer. Before that, I got great writing tips from a good author friend. You can learn a lot from the critiques, notes and suggestions of others and that will help you get better.
But it doesn’t really solve the problem and the thing is, you need to solve it. Why? Well…
1) The opinions of others are just that – opinions. Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 different notes, often conflicting. They may all be valid in different ways but might not be right for what your work should be or suit your particular strengths. You may end up having to sift through many suggestions, leading you back to the initial question – how do I know if it’s any good?
2) Ultimately, you must become your own quality control. You have to seize responsibility for your own work and relying on others to tell you what is right or wrong can be a dangerous crutch. You have to be the one pushing for greatness. You have to be the one who knows what is best. You have to be the expert in your own work. If you hand in a script, you have to know it’s damn good.
So what’s the solution?
The solution lies in distance from your work. Time. I learned so much writing those first forty episodes of Fluffy Gardens but that’s not actually where I made the biggest leap as a writer. That came afterwards. You see, months after production and probably half a year after the scripts had been finished, the episodes were on repeat among other shows. All those feelings I had while writing were gone. I had distance. Now I was just someone watching a television show. I saw those stories in ways I never had before. I could see parts that really worked, and many that didn’t. At the same time, I was watching and studying many other preschool shows so I also had context and comparisons (doing your homework is essential).
Not only could I see these strengths and weaknesses in the finished episodes, I could see them in the scripts. Rewatching and rereading those forty episodes, I was building up a massive list of things that I felt worked and didn’t work. And they were all about my work, not about what worked or didn’t work for someone else.
Distance through time.
But the great thing is that you won’t always need that time. You see, once you have begun to properly evaluate your older work, you will see things to look out for in the work you are doing right now. You will have a far greater awareness and start to build up an objectivity that was next to impossible before. And it is so important that you do this because your work won’t always get better on its own. Practice makes perfect doesn’t work if you’re just repeating the same mistakes over and over because you can’t see them.
You can make a start on this right now. Have an old script? Dig it out and go over it. Be a harsh critic. Do it with other scripts. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses. Then see if you can find those same elements in your current work. Use what you learn to get better right now. If you don’t have an old script you think is suitable, write one. Write a script this week, get it into what you feel is good shape and stick it in a folder somewhere. Leave it. Continue working and learning and revisit it in six months time. Is it as good as you thought? Are some parts better? Worse?
The important part of this is that you begin to grasp a real awareness of your own work. An honesty about your work that you can apply now. And it works for writing, drawing, directing. It may well work for everything. Before long, you will have a good sense of whether your work is good or not no matter how deep you are buried in it.