This post was originally written and posted on The Specimen blog, but thought it was worth repeating so I’m re-posting it here.
In every project you endeavor, invariably you will at some point begin to question what it is you’re doing. Normally your instincts and tastes guide you and you should trust them, but eventually when you live and breathe a project for a while, you’ll become desensitized to the material. You can no longer tell if something that made you laugh last week, is still funny, or if something is clear enough to the audience. It makes sense to you, but you know all the history and decisions that got you there. This is the moment when objectivity is lost, and burn out is imminent. It happens to writers, artists, and filmmakers alike.
What to do? First, find someone you trust, someone who can be brutally honest and not blow sunshine up your ass. In other words not your Mother or Father, or Spouse (unless he or she can be brutally honest). Someone you respect who doesn’t have a stake in the project, but can give you honest, constructive, and objective feedback. This person should also fit into the audience for your project. One of the people you’re trying to reach. Then find some more people, because you’re going to need multiple points of view. Share your project with them, but don’t watch them read it or view it. Send it to them to review in private.
Then while your quorum reviews, take a break. Do something fun that redirects your mind and energy to put some distance between you and the project. Get away for a weekend; write a blog post on objectivity, anything but working on the project.
When the feedback comes in, don’t jump right on the notes. We’re trying to create distance which will hopefully restore your objectivity and prevent burn out.
Once you feel you’re able to look back at the project objectively, start reviewing the notes. This is where a small quorum of opinions will be ideal, because with several objective and varying opinions you’ll be able to see trends in their responses. If a majority of people point out something that needs work, even if they aren’t specific about what’s wrong you’ll know right away you need to address that, just as you’ll be validated if the majority compliment something else. As with any feedback, some of it may surprise and disappoint you. Some may point out that you need to “kill your darlings.” 1 Some of it you may be diametrically opposed to. Good or bad, you need to absorb the information.
After absorbing the feedback, discuss it with each member of your quorum, or better yet, get them all together in one place to start a dialog, and take notes. Then go back and read, watch, or view your project again hopefully with fresh and objective eyes. Are you seeing what your quorum saw? Now is the time to dig back in with your feedback and notes in hand to re-write, edit, or re-work the piece and make it better.
This may be required multiple times on some projects, but don’t be disheartened, it’s all part of the process. It’s the same rationale that Hollywood uses when they arrange test screenings and questionnaires. Your quorum is your first test audience.
- “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” William Faulkner ↩