2016 Gets Notes: 10 Changes for the New Year, from my desk to yours

As a writer, you get a lot of feedback, and we call this feedback “notes.”

Sometimes you’re asking for notes, like when you send a desperate email to a writer friend, begging, “What’s off here? What’s working? Am I on to something that matters? In any way? AT ALL?” And sometimes you’re asking for them, but far less desperately, like when you submit a piece to a creative writing workshop.

These days, most of the notes I receive are from my agent or an editor. Occasionally they’re from an especially astute reader, chosen by the agent or editor, in hopes that fresh eyes catch something we didn’t.

Writers love and loathe notes, often simultaneously.

The best ones either affirm the sinking suspicions we already had (but needed some reinforcing to surrender to), or they’re smart and entirely unexpected. Good notes can polish and buff a piece, nudging it across the finish line to production or publication. Other good notes, especially big ones on character or the logistics of a plot or premise, can drop a grenade in the heart of a piece, prompting months of reworking, fueled by swimming pools of coffee and the quiet hope that it’s not all for nothing.

Either way, good notes are good notes, and we should heed them.

Still, notes can be terribly vague: “It drags in the middle.” 

This is important. This I must address.

Notes can be terribly specific: “No one should smirk or sigh or shrug more than once or twice in a hundred pages.” 

Good catch, quick fix. Thank you.

Notes can arrive with attitude: “What’s with all the food descriptions? Particularly the charcuterie and cheese and dessert platters. We get it. They attended a party. There was food.” 

Hell if I know. Maybe I was hungry while writing it. Did you ever think of that?

Notes can arrive with love: “That scene where Paige is missing her father and she sees his profile in the chipped paint of the centerfield wall, that gave me chills. Give us more of that.” 

Oh, you got that, did you? You got that exactly as I intended? I will, I promise, I WILL give you more of that. Boatloads! Thank you!

Even when not presented with love, the “more of this” / “less of that” notes are my favorite. Why? They’re clear, concise, and non-prescriptive. When folks advise you include more of this or less of that, they don’t care how you do it, they just want to see it done. I like that.

All in all, the point of crafting, delivering, accepting, and applying notes is about the noble, unwavering, albeit pain-in-the-ass commitment to propel that which is so-so, or decent, or pretty good into notably, markedly exceptional stuff.

This, naturally, lends itself to life.

Real life.

My life.

Your life.

In the spirit of the new year, in the spirit of declare-what-you-want-then-go-make-it-so, in the spirit of 2016 was a rough one (in A LOT of ways, for A LOT of people), in the spirit of good-vibes-only-here-on-out, in the spirit of a festivious “I-get-to-air-my-grievances-and-give-notes, too,” I present Year 2016 with ten considerations, in hopes that 2017 is paying (very) close attention.

1.  Moving forward, we’d like to see more civility. More gentility. More humanity. More listening. More patience. More kindness. We’d like to see many of the macrocosm players clean up their acts. Like overhaul-style. In this respect, I know this sounds like a page one rewrite. Because it is. Clean it up. Make us proud.

2.  While number one implies what we want more of, I feel it’s important to spell out what we demand less of: less name-calling, less bullying, less anger, less divisive, dangerous “us VS. thems,” less violence, less trauma, less ego, less ugly.

Moving on,

3.  I’m wondering if there’s a way to tighten the time between seeing friends? Because, in Abbey’s 2016, there are some serious gaps. Friendships need and deserve to be better tracked. Simply, if you’re going to have friends in this piece, you need to see them more. I mean, it’s really a waste.

You have this ensemble cast of badass, uniquely-voiced female goddesses and then we hardly see them. Please address.

4.  Maybe this next draft could have even more laughs?

Find a way to up the humor 10% and down the drama 10% ?

5.  On that note, cut back on the cool people dying. (Or cut it out entirely. That’d be fine.)

6.  Key characters in Abbey’s 2016 experienced a slew of red herring-style, didn’t-really-go-anywhere stutter steps – personally and professionally. In 2017, we’d like to see more greenlights. We’re talking contracts, deals, babies, proposals, promotions, new houses, the works. We’re over this blinking yellow bullshit. Bring on the greenlights. Bright, steady ones that illuminate even the darkest hours.

Should the budget allow and there be space on the page, maybe said greenlights could arrive with some much-deserved fanfare?

A trumpet trio, or buckets of confetti, or a sea of poised palms, you know, the universe high-fiving their triumphant moment.

Let’s make it big. Let’s make it glorious.

7.  Keep the baby stuff exactly as-is. That Cameron “wonder boy” person is just delicious. Don’t you dare even tweak a line of his dialogue. He is precious and pure and you couldn’t write him better if you tried.

8.  There are entire sections where everything’s messy and disorganized. Figuratively, sure, but also, say, for instance, Abbey’s closet. And office. And basement. And garage. Even her purse, for godssake. Maybe this next draft could be more organized?

9.  I know this seems petty, with some of the truly important stuff touched on in the earlier points, but I sense there’s a lot that Abbey would’ve liked to have had a reason to wear this last draft. Like clothing/jewelry/bag-wise. It’s a shame to have costuming play a minor role, especially when she curated such an eccentric stock in her twenties. Maybe 2017 could invite more occasions to showcase her loveliest, most impractical wears? Maybe alongside that dashing love interest, Anthony?

10.  Add more scenes in nature, too, please.

Happy NEW Year, dear ones. Our time is now.




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