For screenwriters and other industry professionals, it’s important to find mentors who can help you elevate your craft and learn how to navigate the industry.
As a producer and former VP of Development for production companies based at Sony, Universal and Disney, I have been fortunate to have many wonderful mentors along the way and feel grateful for all they have taught me. They have come in all shapes and sizes. Many have been industry colleagues, bosses, other executives, agents, entertainment attorneys and even friends and teachers outside of the business who are intelligent, compassionate, provide different perspectives and opinions I trust and respect.
It’s no secret that finding good mentors can help you exponentially grow in your career. The following are pointers about selecting a good mentor:
Your mentor should be someone who has knowledge in areas you don’t have and someone you respect, but not simply because he or she says so. Follow your gut because you know in your heart when someone is posturing rather than being genuine.
You want to avoid the type of people who might derive their self-esteem by putting others down. Exposing yourself to people who will be highly critical, without understanding the creative process and craft of screenwriting will only be destructive and counter-productive.
While you want to find those who can support and help you, careful you don’t look for someone who will simply validate what your want to hear. If you think you want constructive feedback, but secretly only seek validation, your work won’t improve and you will prevent your growth as an artist.
Positive reinforcement and encouragement are great, but a trap many writers fall in to is to allow themselves to be seduced by any and all encouragement. Seeking validation and accepting false encouragement blindly is not good for writers because these get in the way of evolving one’s craft.
While it’s important to receive constructive criticism, it is also important to surround yourself with people who are genuinely supportive of your work and want you to succeed.
Avoid anyone who says you have to do it their way and only their way — unless they hold all the purse strings and you’ve made a conscious decision for financial rather than creative reasons that you don’t mind submitting to their vision.
If you enlist feedback from those whose opinions and work you respect, then even if you don’t agree with a particular critique, there’s a good chance the comment has some level of validity. While the specific suggestion might not resonate for you immediately — if you keep an open mind, you might see that the scene or moment in question may not be working as well as it could. While the specific suggestion might not feel right to you — and it’s good to trust your instincts — at the same time if you keep an open mind, you might come up with a solution that makes the scene better than what you originally created.
Great writers I’ve worked with have had the courage of their convictions while still being open to suggestions, taking the suggestion, and coming up with their own new “take” on how to implement the note. This duality is essential to good writing. By having an open mind, a writer absorbs the information and finds a way to make it better. As a producer, I never want to work with a writer who rolls over on every comment. Complete compliance would suggest the writer lacks vision or backbone.
Although these two responses might seem diametrically opposed, great writers have the ability to do both… have receptivity to notes (provided they have merit) and ways of improving the material while also maintaining his or her vision.
It’s a good idea not to let your ego get in the way so that you can be open to constructive criticism which can help make your work better. But in the process, don’t lose sight of who you are. Listen, absorb, weigh the data, and then trust your instincts! They’re what got you this far. If you’re not in a good place, maybe it’s time to take an honest look at your work, your process, and re-evaluate.
Even the best instincts can be fine-tuned and honed with the help of a good mentor, one who doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear but provides constructive feedback and helps you grow. These mentors can be invaluable.
- More articles by Wendy Kram
- Balls of Steel: The Secret to Finding a Screenwriting Mentor
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Screenwriting by Wendy Kram
- Balls of Steel: 10 Tips to Prepare for Opportunities When They Knock
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