As the international television consultant I sometimes am, I sometimes find myself working with people coming into TV script writing from other forms of writing, for the simple reason that in many parts of the world (well, my world) trained and experienced TV writers are thin on the ground. For those coming into TV writing from backgrounds in solo writing, it can be difficult to adjust to the collaborative creative process that writing for television demands. Such writers often have the expectation that their feelings will be taken into consideration – that they’ll be treated gently. They quickly learn that in the hothouse environment of a TV writers’ room, your ego is your own affair, and any time you go, “Ouch, my feelings,” that’s pretty much a problem you get to have all alone.
When I’m the bearer of this bad news, I try to break it gently – but, weirdly, not too gently. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, sure, but in the writers’ rooms I run, I don’t really want people’s feelings to be an issue at all. I want to get into productive collaboration as quickly as possible. So I ask my writers to join me in adopting a certain useful fiction (a useful fiction is something that everyone knows to be untrue, but agrees to anyway, for the sake of a common good). The useful fiction I’m promoting here is, “Inside this room, feelings don’t matter.” We all know it’s not true. We all know that our egos will make their presence known. But if we collectively commit to serving the work and not the ego, then we can go about the business of giving one another hard notes – often terribly brutal notes – without anyone wanting to open the nearest window and hurl themselves out.
Let’s say I’m giving story notes to a writer who’s never had anyone comment meaningfully on her work before. This is a very common situation in my line of work, and you would think I’d handle that writer with kid gloves. Yet kid gloves are the last thing I want. If I try to couch my notes in protective language, my message might not get through. Worse, my efforts to do so just reinforce the idea that protecting each other’s feelings is, or should be, our priority, which leads to more pulled punches and more lost efficiency. So I just say, “The notes are the notes. I know you’ll have an emotional reaction to them, but remember that here in this room we pretend that those feelings don’t matter. This clears out the space between us and lets us focus, together, on closing the gap between where the work is and where it needs to be.” [Read more…]