Interview with Jeane Wong Part 3: Breaking In

networking

by Kathryn Graham

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line! Don’t miss the first two parts of this interview with this rising star HERE and HERE.

You worked in politics before entertainment, right?

I worked briefly (in politics) then I went and interned in film and television. I worked at an agency and management company briefly, and then I landed on a TV show. I’ve been working in TV for several years now. That’s been my trajectory.

So you’ve been a script coordinator and a writer’s PA, right?

I’ve worked on several shows as support staff. Everyone’s experience is different, but for me it’s helped me tremendously for gauging personalities and being in the room. In the pitch process, it was helpful to be able to say I’ve worked on these shows and been in the room, even though I haven’t been staffed. Depending on the shows I might have more room experience than a staff writer. I’m familiar with different personalities, names, and talent.

It’s been super useful because I’ve come to a point where I can utilize my contacts for something. Because of this (winning Pitchfest) happening, I have been able to reach out to people and ask for help in the right ways. Because I guess UCP validated me.

What was the best part of being a writer’s PA or a script coordinator?

You learn the most by being a fly on the wall. There were a lot of times, when I was writer’s PA where I asked to read for staffing. I learned that asking to do stuff of your own initiative means you get to overhear conversations about why a writer is staying or not staying, join meetings for staffing, and see how they put together the room. It was super valuable. You get access to something you wouldn’t get to otherwise.

What was the most fun?

Open bars at wrap parties. That’s the best part of life, when there’s an open bar, let’s be honest.

There’s this idea that there’s a hundred million different ways to break in. Is that true?

I feel like the path that I’ve seen with the most success is being a writer’s assistant. Script coordinator sometimes. Like I said I’ve seen instances where the writer’s PA gets staffed. It’s rare.

There’s a few instances where people break in from features because they have a film at Sundance. Everyone is very different. Half the people are in programs. There are a few who do it the old fashioned way, get representation, and get staffed. The rest would be through working as support staff on shows. Then there’s a small percentage that’s ‘other’. That’s been my experience. Out of twenty people I know, that’s the breakdown I see.

What’s your advice for getting a first job as a writer’s PA or assistant?

Network effectively. You throw a penny in the air you’re bound to meet someone who works in TV in this town. I would say when you’re meeting with people, really know how to work that contact. I’ve had people who would just e-mail me once a year after having met them once and just ask for a job. Not say or do anything else throughout the year. That person I’m less likely to recommend as opposed to the contact who’s like ‘hey, let’s grab a coffee’ and seems genuine and interested in getting to know me.

You have to know how to play the game a little bit with your contacts. I’ve been on shows where I never met the showrunner, and I was hired. Really know how to savor that contact. Don’t make it that every time you reach out to someone that you need something.

I remember there was this one contact who was so smart who would e-mail me, and be like ‘hey, I got free tickets to this screening, do you want to go?’ So every time they were reaching out it wasn’t about work, and it wasn’t about something they needed. It almost sounds fake, but it isn’t. It’s about being genuine, for me. I’d rather help someone who’s genuine and socially intelligent. People who know not go to ‘Hey, do you have a job? Bye.’

Unfortunately it is who you know. Some of those jobs get posted on tracking boards. Most of those jobs are word of mouth. If you stayed on someone’s radar and were not annoying, those are the people who get jobs. That’s the best advice. Network effectively. I’m actually really surprised because I feel like not a lot of people do that.

It sounds so on the nose, but it’s true. It’s hard because writers are naturally introverted, and not everyone, but me, I’m neurotic. So it’s not natural for everyone to be extroverted.

Networking seems very simple but mysterious at the same time.

I can tell you one thing I did that was effective for me was I used to throw on TV assistant brunches or get-togethers. I would invite thirty people who work on shows and twenty people who are looking for jobs. That’s actually how I landed a lot of my first interviews on TV shows. I was like, how do I meet these people? Alcohol! Great! I didn’t have those contacts, so I had to think outside the box.

At the time I had a friend who worked at an agency. I knew a handful of people, and those people invited other people, and you wind up having a good group. If you’re right now looking for a job in TV, just get brunch with five or six people. Group outings. Whatever. It’s about making those contacts.

Writers’ groups are a good way to meet people too.

What would you say to people who feel like networking is superficial?

A lot of people who I’ve met, I’ve become friends with for years now, some are really good friends. I’ve never gotten a drink with someone I didn’t like. Even if I want a job from them, I wouldn’t do that. I’ve always considered myself a sincere person. Some of the people you meet might become some of your greatest allies in the industry.

I think the way to bypass thinking that it’s fake is that you’re meeting people at your level who are going to bat for you, will be your friends, and be supportive. Just to have a network of people who will be just as annoyed when you don’t get into that writing program. I wouldn’t look at it as a completely fake thing. One or two of those people have wound up being close friends of mine who I can talk to. I can say to them: ‘something annoying happened in the room and I need to vent’. They get it because they work in the same business.

I have a couple industry friends who are genuinely my friends. I have a friend who left the industry because our friendship goes beyond whether I need something from her. When you work in this town there’s a lot of people who you wind up connecting with. On a larger life scale, bird’s eye view, I would look at networking as the stage in your life where you’re finding your work friends, rather than college friends or childhood friends.

I’ve heard from an agent that you should never hand an agent something that’s not brilliant because you will never get a second chance.

That is true to an extent. This pilot was passed on. Most agents in my opinion sign you once they know you have some momentum. When the news hit Deadline, they reached out to me again even though they passed.

Agents don’t pass because the material isn’t good. I would say that because I’ve worked at a management company. 80% of the time it’s because you need momentum where you’re about to get staffed or you’re in a writing program. Then they’ll look at you.

Unfortunately that’s really cynical. I have a friend who has a deal now, but when I was working at a management company, I tried to get them to look at her. She’s so good. They didn’t sign her because she wasn’t known. Then she got Warner Bros. two years later and everyone wanted to sign her. I’m like ‘What was the difference?’

For me it was a two week difference. Someone said ‘we’re not looking for clients right now’ and two weeks later, I was announced on Deadline, and they reached back out to me. I have nothing against that. It’s the business. I just think it’s the process. It’s not personal. It just means you have to create the momentum. If you’re a comedy writer, you can make Youtube videos and get a lot of hits. With social media there’s a lot more you can do now — especially in comedy.

If you had to break into the industry now instead of when you did, what would be the first thing you would do?

Someone else gave me this advice. You can either work on a show and move up or go do something in the industry and jump on a show. Get a job. It doesn’t have to be in the industry. Get something that you can do so mindlessly that it doesn’t emotionally drain you so you can write and live your life.

Survive. Get a job. Always write. Even before you come to LA, if you were writing and you have your samples ready, get a job,  and then network. Gotta make sure you pay that rent.

A lot of people are hard on themselves when they can’t get an industry job. I would say if you have a job you can do in your sleep outside the industry, that’s great because you’re not drained. I know a lot of people who work on shows who don’t write because their mind is so discombobulated.

Some people with corporate jobs, they work and then take a year off to pursue writing. There’s a path where you don’t do the TV support staff route. Get an agent. Place in a contest. Get momentum going.

Stay positive. It’s such an annoying thing to hear. It really is. Surround yourself with people who give you that energy and momentum. There may be days you think “What am I doing with my life? WTF?” There may be days like that, but move on. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, but don’t suffer with it. That’s something I generally try to live by. Try not to dwell on things so much.

People forget in this town too. People make comebacks all the time. You can be up one moment, down the next. Don’t let things get you down.

I worked for a boss where the head of the studio told them that they’d never work in this town again. A few years later this person got a show. People have a short memory in this town, so you should too. If you had a shitty day, live it and let it go. It’s harder to remember when you’re in the moment.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Interview with Jeane Wong Part 2: State of the Industry

by Kathryn Graham

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line! Don’t miss the first part of this interview with this rising star HERE.

ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Empower: Fight Like a Girl is a collection of short stories about female heroines by female television writers, including Jeane Wong! Buy here: Amazon

And now the, you know, show:

How much has the industry changed since you started?

I came of age when all of the social media was such a big deal. Now I feel like it’s grown even bigger with all of the social media stars using that as a different platform. I don’t know if it’s changed so much as grown. Especially with Lost. I grew up with shows like that, and seeing showrunners interact on social media platforms.

Writers are more known now. I remember I was at a party at Comic Con, and Joss Whedon was there. Everybody recognized him. I don’t know if that would happen if I had started in a different age. Writers are more engaged, more known, more online. They’re pseudo-celebrities in their own right. That has been fascinating.

I feel like some things haven’t changed. Someone’s cousin’s son will get hired, and I have friends who have spent years just trying to break in as a writer’s PA. And then you meet people who, because their dad was So-and-So, they get in. A lot of things haven’t changed.

Unfortunately some of the things, I haven’t worked for anyone like that, but being a woman and a minority is still tough. I sometimes joke around with a friend of mine. He’s also a writer and he’s developing material. Everyone is all ‘we have our woman and our diverse person on staff.’ We joked around that when we staff our shows, we’ll say ‘oh, we have our white man.’

Do you see that getting any better?

It’s weird because my pilot is a lot about racial things, and now we’re talking about this. I think people do try, but I don’t think a lot has changed. I’ve worked at a lot of shows where unless it was a woman at the top, there were not a lot of women or diverse people on staff. I think people do try. I will admit that. But there’s a concept that there can only be one woman. Why can’t there be two? Whoa, shocker. We’re half the population, guys.

Is ageism still a big thing for people trying to break in?

You can get staffed from any age. I worked with a PA who was in his or her late thirties and got staffed from the PA position. That’s a little more rare, but it does happen.

In my opinion, if I were putting together my show, I would prefer people with some life experience. As a first time showrunner there’s a lot of pressure. Let’s say your show is at a certain studio, they’ll pressure you to hire people from their writing program. You want to keep everyone happy. There’s so many demands, even in terms of staffing, from what I understand.

I would want people who are a little older, especially at the staff writer level. Theoretically I would only hire a staff writer who has been in support staff and who’s at the breaking point. The way I like to describe it, the person who’s at the point where they’re almost going to quit because they’ve been there for so long. I feel like that person deserves to get staffed.

On The Thin Line I would hope I would find a diverse staff because of the subject matter. It would be weird if everyone on there was white.

How much of an impact do you think TV has on us as people, on our country, on the way we think?

Me personally, I hope to, no, I will create stronger roles for women. Stories that pass the Bechedel test. At the same time, I don’t want to take myself too seriously. I’m not curing cancer. At the end of the day, this is television. Let’s just have fun and entertain. It’s that weird balance where yes, I want to create roles that are great for women, but I also don’t want to take myself too seriously.

TOMORROW: PART THREE


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Interview with Jeane Wong Part 1: The Thin Line

segregation

by Kathryn Graham

Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line!

What is The Thin Line about?

It’s a revisionist history pilot in modern day America where segregation still exists. It centers on two brothers. One is in a violent civil rights group, and the other lives his life outside of politics. He’s recruited by the FBI to investigate his brother’s political activities. It’s a family drama. There’s a crime element. There’s a very subtle grounded sci-fi element.

Sort of like Man in the High Castle?

I love Philip K. Dick. Every time I travel to a new city, I always buy a Philip K. Dick book to read. He’s definitely one of my top five authors. I had this idea before that show was announced publicly. It’s fortuitous that revisionist history hasn’t been overdone yet, that I know of.

Have you pitched before this?

Formally, no. I only pitched a feature twice. It was completely brand new. I’ve pitched informally in a writer’s room, but in terms of my own show and doing a formal pitch, no. A lot of times those sorts of meetings don’t really happen for newbies. There’s not a lot of people who go out and sell pilots without ever having been staffed. I guess I did it in reverse.

My two really good friends, a comedian writer friend of mine, Lisa, and writer friend of mine, LaToya, we met up. I literally had two days to put together the pitch, and it was my last week at work. So I asked one of my coworkers, Ben, what his process was.

Then I met up with those two friends the night before the pitch, and I practiced it with them. I didn’t have it formed out yet. I had three different beginnings, and I wasn’t sure which one to use. I went through the different versions with them, and they told me which one they liked. I didn’t have a pitch until maybe 11pm the night before, and then I pitched it 10am the next morning. I memorized as much as I could and riffed.

I’m not someone who memorizes everything. I figure out what the points I need to get to are and then improv the rest. Everyone has different styles. Some people memorize every um and ahh. I’m a mix of both.

How well did you know the story before you went in to pitch?

I had already written the full pilot, and I had also written a comic book that was a prequel to the pilot that fleshed out the main character’s backstory. I knew it very well. I’ve re-broken and reworked it when I signed with my manager. It was my main sample that went out.

I had a lot of answers already in my head about story direction and characters. I had pitched the season and even a couple seasons down the line where I saw the character arcs. I would say I knew it well which probably helped in terms of pitching it.

What happens now?

It was purchased by the studio. Basically it’s in development at the studio. They’re employing me to develop it with them and rewrite. I hope it gets packaged with the right showrunner and taken to the network. There’s so many steps along the way. Lightning has to strike several more times, but you never know in this town.

What’s the best advice you ever got in terms of TV writing?

This is definitely a ‘next level’ piece of advice. Recently when I sold my pilot, I was talking to my friend who had also sold a pilot as an assistant. The best advice he gave me was so counter-intuitive that it blew my mind. So much about being in the industry is about being proactive, taking initiative, putting yourself out there.

He said: when you’re in the middle of negotiations for your deal, don’t pester your lawyer or seem impatient. Give them the time to get you the best numbers. It blew my mind because he was saying not to do anything and not to be proactive. With your lawyer be hands off. Let them get the best numbers. You don’t want them to close too early. The truth is lawyers are negotiating twenty deals at the same time. They’ll be like ‘okay I’ll wrap this one up and go on to the next thing’.

Is there a possibility of you working on The Thin Line once it’s been picked up?

I’m involved in it at an upper level.

One of the things I’m learning is just to enjoy the ride. As long as I’m still on the ride, I’m just going to enjoy it. I have no expectations. Anything could happen, but I’m hoping for the best. It’s the best outlook during this process. Although the end goal is the show’s creation, I try to think about the step that’s next. Whether it’s the next meeting or next call I have to take.

It’s more manageable to look at it as all of these small steps to conquer and challenge. The big picture’s always in the back of my head, but I try to think of the other little things I have to do first.

TOMORROW: PART TWO


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

The One Question Every Writer Needs to Answer

reality

by Kathryn Graham

“Am I a real writer?”

There are lots of memes that float around facebook about what makes something ‘real’. They say things like ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men wear pink’ usually typed over photographs of what some dingbat with Photoshop or MS Paint thinks represents reality.  It’s all hogwash. A ‘real’ woman or man simply is because they feel they are. There is no prerequisite to becoming what you already are.

The same goes for asking if you’re a real writer. It can be worthwhile to ask yourself just how passionately you feel about writing, in what venue, if you care about creating great television, being published, or any other number of things that come along with the business of writing. It’s worth it to ask yourself how much writing means to you because it will require a lot out of you. But asking if you’re a real writer?

I asked myself this question during a time in my life when I wasn’t writing as much as I would have liked. The conventional wisdom always came back to: “Real writers write. Period.” This bit of wisdom sounds all tied up with bow and a tag that reads “This is the final word”. In actuality, it’s probably just as worthless as ‘real men wear kilts’.

Let’s put it this way. If Stephen King stops writing for months, even years, and doesn’t put a word down on paper – is he still a ‘real writer’? Does he only become a real writer again once he commits to sit in front of a blank page on a computer screen and tap tap tap away at the keys?

I’d like to tell you that if you ask yourself if you’re a ‘real writer’ and you feel like you are, poof, that’s all you need. But the fact is you can think that you’re not a real writer and still be one. You can also believe that you’re a ‘real writer’ and spend your entire life never actually writing anything.

So you want to know if you’re a real writer? If asking yourself that question makes you feel good, reassured of your identity, and ready to follow through on your choices, that’s great. If not, try re-framing the question. How much do you care about writing right now? What are you willing to do or sacrifice to get it done? What kind of impact does writing have on your life and your well-being? Whatever the answers are now, you can always come back at another time and find out if your feelings or your circumstances have changed. The only thing being ‘real’ requires is being honest with yourself and making choices you can live with.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Confessions of a Contest Script Reader

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by Kathryn Graham

For a brief time, I was one of those ‘gatekeepers’ who read movie scripts that were submitted to an online contest (no, not for TVwriter’s contest. You’ll have to ask LB about that one).

I was a woefully underpaid ‘script analyst’ who, in order to make a buck, slogged through 120 – 215 page scripts and provided notes for contest hopefuls. If you’re thinking about entering one of these, here’s a few things I gleaned on the ‘other side’.

The most important thing I learned was that good writing is hard to find but easy to recognize. Most scripts I read earned a C or D on their report cards. There was only one script that was better, and it earned a solid B. That B script was a godsend in a miasma of mediocrity.

Perhaps other contests attract a higher quality of writing overall, but the one I read for received mainly average submissions. It may be encouraging to you (as it is to me) to know that while this is a highly competitive industry and there are many excellent writers out there, they’re actually quite a small part of the population at large. Good writing is tough to find and great writing even tougher.

I’d further like to encourage you by letting you know that I really wanted these scripts to be good. I wasn’t trying to rip them to shreds. I didn’t look for every little nitpick as an excuse to toss them out. This may not be the case with everyone. Maybe there are some bitter failed writers out there who are hoping to tear you a new one, but I’d wager that the majority of the people who are reading your story want it to be good.

For me, it was because good scripts made my job fun. I had to be there reading your script. If you could make that experience good for me, I was profoundly grateful. For others, like agents or development executives, they want your script to be good because they want the next big thing. If you have that, that means they can get their hands on it and maybe a lot of money too.

The C level stories that I read had this in common: They were boring. Dull. Shoot the wall or claw your eyes out boring. I’m sure the people who wrote them are perfectly nice people. I don’t know them, and so I don’t care. It isn’t personal. All I wanted from them was entertainment. If I had been a reader who wasn’t paid or if somehow these movies were produced and I was a viewer, I would have been gone within a few pages/minutes.

You may think that’s unfair. How can I tell if a script is any good just by the first few pages? I may have thought the same thing once upon a time, but now I know that you actually can tell, in a broad way, if a script is worth reading by its first few pages. You can tell by how engaging the characters and dialogue are. This doesn’t change as you get to page 20, 45, or 109. It exists from the start or it doesn’t exist at all.

Because right at the start I can tell if you have two of the three elements that I need to be able to enjoy your script: character and dialogue. That’s it. Nail that early, and I know you’re two thirds of the way there.

I want great characters with fully fleshed out and unique personalities, fantastic dialogue that really draws out your characters and is amusing in its own right, and structure that allows me to follow your main character(s) to the ultimate point of your story. These are basic elements that can be combined for an endless number of memorable stories.

I fully believe you can improve on all of these things by studying your craft. I think most of the average writers I read just sat down and pounded on the keyboard with only a superficial knowledge of why they were putting anything on the page. I think that if I had asked them why their character did this, why they included that scene, or what they were saying with a particular piece of dialogue they wouldn’t have been able to tell me.

Make sure when you’re writing that you know why you’re doing everything you do, and if you can’t figure it out, find someone who can help you discover it.

No one aims to be average. Mediocrity is something that just happens. Greatness is carefully crafted.

On a side note? If you’re going to have a scene set in a diner, a bar, or someplace where your characters are all eating do not tell me what they are ordering. Of every television show I’ve ever watched I remember exactly three food or drink orders from characters:

JD on Scrubs orders appletinis at bars (because it’s a ‘girly’ drink and we can laugh at how unmanly JD is, hyuk hyuk). Everything Ron Swanson ate on Parks and Recreation from the entire breakfast menu to shrimp wrapped bacon (to prove how ‘manly’ he is and again for laughs). And lastly, Leslie Knope also from Parks and Recreation often ordered waffles with insane amounts of whipped cream (her entire town is addicted to sugar and is therefore obese).

See why I remember these? They had a point. They told me something about the characters. So unless your character’s bacon cheeseburger with a side of sweet potato fries immediately says something about them or ends up playing a pivotal role in the scene, I don’t care. You can skip it. No one will miss it. I promise.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Care of the Writer’s Instrument

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Xena going straight for the instrument!

by Kathryn Graham

What’s a writer’s most important instrument? Is it a pen? A notebook? How about a laptop? Or is it your butt, the proverbial ‘butt in seat’ thing?

Bottom line, yourl butt is you, and you happen to be a physical body on a physical plane.  I know my body is my most cherished instrument because right now I have a crick in my neck that’s making this article tough to write. It’s like Xena cut off the flow of blood to my brain except that instead of Xena, it was a shitty mattress, a flattened pillow, and a 40 hour a week desk job.

Many people, myself included, don’t treat their bodies right. Writers are more susceptible to this because of the nature of writing. If you’re sitting for long hours pounding away at a keyboard, you’re likely hurting your spine, potentially not eating or depriving yourself of sleep, and any other number of vices in the name of the written word.

So how do we take care of ourselves while also devoting ourselves to this sedentary craft? Here’s a few things that I’m going to be trying:

  1. Get some sunshine. You need the vitamin D. You could also take supplements, but you might as well just take the laptop outside or sit near a window for a little while.
  2. Eat healthier. I know it’s easy to warm up a five minute hot pocket (and you need that time to write!), but heavy or bad food is harder to digest, makes you tired, and will make you less sharp. If you have no time or you’re in a groove, before you sit down, grab something quick that you don’t detest – an avocado, pistachios, a granola bar, an orange. Here’s some good ideas. (And more tips on how to be a healthy writer).
  3. Get good sleep. Invest in a good mattress and pillow. Make sure you have as close to ideal sleep conditions as possible (no light, the right temperature, nix the caffeine 5 hours before bed, keep a regular sleep schedule). Do your best to make sure that you get enough rest so that when you wake you’re alert and ready to write.
  4. Stretch out. Even if all you’re doing are chair stretches for ten minutes. Set a timer and do it regularly throughout your stint in the chair. (This one I can vouch for)
  5. Hey for that matter, get a good chair or a standing desk. Whatever works best for you. Nothing worse than a chair that gives you saddle sores or bends your spine out of shape.
  6. Walk around for a while. Bonus: This can help you generate or shake loose some ideas if you’re stuck. It’s as if physically moving helps you move through your brain.
  7. Stay hydrated. Don’t just drink coffee, tea, or alcohol as you write. Add a glass of water every now and then.
  8. Massage. We westerners filed this under a ‘luxury’ service because it feels so good. The thing is it feels so good because it’s good for you. All of those aches and pains you’re suffering can distract you in addition to making you miserable. Loosening up your muscles will loosen up a lot more in your head too. Massages are practically a necessity when you think about it.

It’s the usual sorts of things health experts and scientists say to do. I’ve just scaled it down to a minimum because that’s all I’m willing to do right now. If you have more to add to this list, I’m all ears. As you can probably tell, I’m writing this mainly for myself, but it will hopefully be of service to any of you other long suffering bodies out there.

Sure it seems self-explanatory, but maybe you need to hear it again. If you’re not feeling well, you’re less likely to be as productive, to have as much energy as you need, and to be able to write for as long as you’d like to. Breakdowns of the body can sometimes be pushed through, but they can also stop you cold. Why torment yourself when it’s so easy to do the bare minimum to keep yourself going?

So if you needed another reason to take some baby steps toward a healthier you, here’s another one: It will help your writing.


Kathryn is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Writer’s Technique: Beyond Criticism

by Kathryn Graham

“Whatever you resist you become. If you resist anger, you are always angry. If you resist sadness, you are always sad. If you resist suffering, you are always suffering. If you resist confusion, you are always confused. We think that we resist certain states because they are there, but actually they are there because we resist them.” — Adyashanti

The most common answer I’ve seen on to how to deal with criticism is “Deal with it. Grow a thick skin.” The idea is that after a while of being insulted, criticized, or dragged over the coals, you develop a kind of emotional callous (‘thick skin’). Maybe this means that one day you wake up and you’re a-okay with someone trashing you and your work. Or you’re able to discern whose opinions matter and whose don’t. Or, at least, you get better at ignoring the pain.

But does that actually happen? Does the fiftieth time a person insults your work hurt less than the first? What about all of that time in the meantime while you’re ‘toughening up’? Many writers are sensitive people. That is not a bad thing. It’s a trait like any other, and oftentimes it’s quite valuable in creative professions. However, now more than ever you’re susceptible to thousands of people’s opinions about you and your work. What can you do about it if you’re not the sort who lets things roll off their back easily?

Some might say the answer is in looking to all of the positive feedback you receive. But praise can, sometimes, be just a damaging. Seeking out compliments, engaging in behavior to receive them, or indulging the need to live up to other’s expectations can throw you off as surely as negative attention can.

The thing to remember is: The value of your work doesn’t change depending on whether other people like it or not. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “…the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.” Neither praise nor criticism are particularly useful to you as a writer except insofar as you are able to hone your craft. Might as well just let go of both of them.

But how do you make yourself believe that in your still-bleeding heart? Here’s a tool that may help you to jump off the merry-go-round of other people’s opinions.

It’s a visualization technique that uses symbols to help you let go of both the desire for praise and resistance to criticism. The following comes from Phyllis Krystal’s Book/Website: Cutting the Ties that Bind.

  1. Imagine you are walking across a tight rope, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, and looking straight ahead.
  2. Hold your arms out to each side with the palms facing up.
  3. Imagine a black bird over to your left that you fear may attack you.
  4. Resist the impulse to push it away, which would cause you to fall off the tight rope.
  5. Continue to walk ahead, looking to neither the right nor the left.
  6. Imagine a beautiful gleaming white bird over on your right side.
  7. Resist the desire to reach out to take hold of it, which would again cause you to fall off the tight rope.
  8. Continue your way across the tight rope allowing either the black bird or the white bird to land on your up-turned palm whenever it wishes.
  9. Allow them to stay as long as they like in your hand, to fly away, and to return in their own time without interfering. Keep walking.

Try it as often as you need. If it works, it should help you to keep your eyes on your goal without external forces knocking you off your path.


Kathryn Graham is an aspiring television writer who recently made the leap to Los Angeles. Watch as she navigates the winding paths of television. Cheers are welcome!