Judging Your Own Work

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  • Judging Your Own Work

    One of the hardest things to do is learn to be a good judge of your own work. It's hard, but if you learn to do it -- you'll be better off for it.

    And I'm talking about

    1. Choosing Ideas
    2. Knowing if a scene is working
    3. Knowing what to cut
    4. Giving yourself notes before you get them from others
    5. If you're writing a comedy -- is this really funny?
    6. Etc, etc, etc...

    These types of things.

    Of course we all need feedback from outside sources. But sometimes you got to put your own work away -- leave it be -- and then come back to it with fresh eyes and pretend someone else wrote it and give notes on it. Fix it up.

    I'm sure a lot of you will say you do this -- but ask yourself -- do you really do it? Why are you more forgiven of your own mistakes than you would be of mine if you read pages on here?

    I see people on here over the years (not just current members) and writer friends who give me great notes and then when I read their work make all the same mistakes they saw in my work.

    And I'm like -- how did they not see this issue in their own work? And I know some of the reasons -- but if "you" the writer can learn to be your own best reader and note giver -- that will help you a lot.

    Be hard on yourself before you show your work to the world.

  • #2
    Re: Judging Your Own Work

    It doesn't take much talent or experience to tell if a fart joke stinks. But I'm not as hard on myself as I'd like to be when it comes to dick jokes.
    Until I can find a quote from Pope Francis regarding one licking one's butt in the Vatican I'll post this:
    Just write it! 3-page writing challenge (January, 2022)

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Judging Your Own Work

      I think it's a matter of being able to judge your own competence at something. Some people simply score themselves at a much higher level of competency than they actually possess.

      In another thread, Jeff Lowell pointed out it's the Dunning-Kruger Effect-- "a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area." (Wiki)

      After googling a bit on Dunning-Kruger I found: The Illusory Superiority Effect -- similar yet the definition adds "... the person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other people." (Wiki)

      IMO, Illusory Superiority is closer to what you've described.

      I've seen it in my day job work. When I used to work in the the creative dept. of ad agencies, they would occasionally hire what they called "baby writers" right out of college with the understanding they would need training and there would be a learning curve.

      As senior writer, their training often fell to me. Over the years, out of perhaps a half dozen baby writers I worked with, only two could accurately, and objectively, recognize when their work was not hitting the mark -- especially when compared to the work of experienced writers.

      The fact that they could objectively assess the quality of their work against the benchmark of better writing is the reason they became better writers. Both of them going on to win awards in the first few years of their careers.

      The others? Well, they wouldn't accept any critique. And when I showed them produced, award-winning ads and brochures for similar products/services as a tool to assess/compare their skills, they'd shrug, "What's so great about that?" Or, "I think mine is just as good."

      They not only overestimated their own skill, they dragged down the clearly superior work of others to justify their "illusion." Of course, none of them made it through the probationary period.

      That's why I think, telling people who are unable to be objective about their work to ...

      Be hard on yourself before you show your work to the world.
      ... is a non-starter since they already believe they're better than they are.

      Thing is -- one can fool oneself into overestimating their own skills and talent but one cannot fool the market if one is seeking to sell their writing.
      Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Judging Your Own Work

        Very well said. I'm for sure talking to the few writers that get what I'm saying. To the unreachable -- I hope you're as good as you think you are.

        I'm the other camp -- I know I can get better. I think I'm pretty good judge of what is good. And I have improved on judging my own work along the way.

        Sure when I started out I thought just the fact that I wrote a screenplay that looked like a screenplay and was 90 pages meant I was a screenwriter. But I learned quickly I was wrong.

        I'm lucky in that I have confidence, but I'm not a cocky guy. My humor is mostly tied to making fun of myself. Some people punch down with jokes, I punch myself in the dick.

        So I'm actually harder on myself than most. And I think that's a good quality to have. However, if you're too much a jerk to yourself, then you can never have enough confidence to show your work. So it's finding that right balance. And when you see something that is better than what you're doing -- learn from it.

        My first writing partner sent me a script he was working on. And I instantly recognized how much better it was than the few scripts I wrote. And I wanted to get up to his level. And I did with him -- but now we are doing it on our own. But it was so clear to me how much better it was than mine.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Judging Your Own Work

          Originally posted by Mark Somers View Post
          It doesn't take much talent or experience to tell if a fart joke stinks. But I'm not as hard on myself as I'd like to be when it comes to dick jokes.
          Hey... wait a minute! Did you...? Was that...? Okay. After reading it a few times, I guess I can try to understand what you mean about joke writing, but I’ve gotta tell ya, it sure sounded funny to me.
          "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." — Joseph Campbell

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Judging Your Own Work

            Improving idea selection for me has been huge. On spec, you better have a compelling hook. I go back and look at my list of old ideas from, say, three years ago - terrible.

            I'm still not really great at objectively evaluating my sh1t. But I know I've improved a significant amount as a writer so the work I'm putting into it makes it less likely something isn't working. Which doesn't mean it won't be sh1t. But I'm much better at doing things that prevent objectively bad work. I think.

            I'm doing a rewrite for a producer now for the first thing I took out with my manager two years ago. And it got a bit of heat and had producers fighting over territories and it got me in rooms. But my god the writing...oof. It's rough in spots. Very glad that I'm getting the chance to fix some of these things.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Judging Your Own Work

              My claim to fame is that Mazin hasn't told me, not yet anyways, "Somers, you really need to be doing something else."
              Until I can find a quote from Pope Francis regarding one licking one's butt in the Vatican I'll post this:
              Just write it! 3-page writing challenge (January, 2022)

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Judging Your Own Work

                Yeah, Illusory Superiority is a very real thing. I've noticed that people who are actually very good and experienced tend to be also more appreciative of other people's (good)work. They don't need to degrade others to feel better about themselves.

                While I agree that you should become better before you show your work to the *world*, you need to show it to *someone* to become better. This board is a solid place to start, but finding a writing a partner/mentor is even better.

                For me, taking 3-4 months off usually clears my head enough to get a truly objective view on things.

                Also very helpful to read scripts that I have written years ago. They are all awful.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Judging Your Own Work

                  Not only am I able to see that Bob Ross was a poor painter, but thankfully, and more importantly, I can see that I am a poor painter.

                  Some people think that Bob Ross was a good painter. Similarly undiscerning people attempt screenwriting.
                  Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
                  "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Judging Your Own Work

                    Originally posted by Bono View Post
                    So I'm actually harder on myself than most. And I think that's a good quality to have. However, if you're too much a jerk to yourself, then you can never have enough confidence to show your work. So it's finding that right balance. And when you see something that is better than what you're doing -- learn from it.
                    That's an important point. Being too harsh on yourself can become a learned behavior that takes away all your confidence.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Judging Your Own Work

                      It's a tough balance for sure. And yes the irony is that most over confident people won't be able to judge their own work. However, the sad part is, sometimes those people make it and more critical people don't.

                      It's just a reminder -- yeah wait a minute -- did I stop to think if this piece of writing is good if it wasn't written by me?

                      My teacher used to tell us to put our names on the back of our writing assignment so he could first grade the paper and then see who wrote it -- as he said -- knowing who wrote it affects the read.

                      I remember reading a poem by a famous author and I said -- I don't think this poem is very good and we are only reading it because this author is famous and had other great works -- so here we are. But if this poem has another less popular name on it -- we would never have read it. Teacher didn't disagree. It's a weird rub.

                      So the goal is to judge the words on the page not the name on the title page.

                      Every read your old writing and it makes you laugh because you're reading it as just a reader and not the writer? Or it makes you throw up and you can't believe you ever wrote so poorly?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Judging Your Own Work

                        I think the problem is that we're very close to our material and that makes it hard to judge. Either we're too confident or we're too harsh. Like, you can be focussed on trimming fat so much that you actually cut into the good stuff.

                        Originally posted by Bono

                        1. Choosing Ideas
                        2. Knowing if a scene is working
                        3. Knowing what to cut
                        4. Giving yourself notes before you get them from others
                        5. If you're writing a comedy -- is this really funny?
                        6. Etc, etc, etc...

                        I think my strong points are idea selection and dialogue. Weakest areas are: is the scene working/knowing what to cut and whether character motivation comes through and/or is plausible. Comedy is hard for me, despite being hilarious and quick-witted. Much of my humour is dry and double-entendre and I'm not convinced it actually comes across as comedy on the page.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Judging Your Own Work

                          Comedy on the page is much different than on the stage. Half our posts I'm sure would be met with laughter if we said them in person and delivered them the way we intended.

                          I had to read some of my jokes to my manager and he said "see the way you just performed that is funny, but it's not funny on the page." And that's the rub. Because I can write anything and some actors can make even the dumbest line sound funny.

                          My friend always used to say "How come you're so funny in real life and your scripts aren't as funny?" And I laughed, but the reason is simple. It's easier for me to make my friends laugh or someone laugh one on one -- especially with shared history -- than it is to make something funny in a script that might not get for years after writing the jokes.

                          It's hard and it sucks. Often why half the time in movies actors "think of new jokes on the set" because they are trying to make the crew laugh and the actors laugh. And it's funny at that moment, but that subtle change has now ruined the whole script. Unless you're really great at it and that's few people. RDJ saying anything as tony stark is some of the best comedy work I've ever seen.

                          Anyway -- that would be a good problem to have. But yes being funny is hard. And judging if you're funny is even harder. Half the stand up comedians I see aren't that funny -- they just think they are -- and have way too much confidence and get up on stage.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I was going to post something similar again, but I already posted it...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Two things:

                              1) In my opinion, we live in an overly sensitive climate that makes this sort of unbiased assessment difficult.

                              2) How many times have you been to a restaurant with 4.7 stars and thousands of ratings on Yelp and left disappointed?

                              The chefs at that restaurant probably think they're some of the best chefs around, but how good are they, really, compared to the elite chefs in the world?

                              People are easily satisfied in general, even in our industry. I don't think you need to write the world's next best thing to win awards or gain recognition. It more so comes down to the standard you set for yourself.

                              I believe every writer on this board who has been doing this for many years will get a movie made at some point in their lives. Or get staffed on a show. For some people that's good enough, because I do thiink there are others things in life more important than your work -- your kids, your family, your health, and overall happiness. But for some artists, chefs, inventors, that isn't enough.

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