Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Compliments of The Person Making You Feel Terribly Uncomfortable

Had a conference call with my manager AND her partner on Monday. The addition of the partner to the conversation was unprecedented. So was the conversation itself, which consisted largely of the both of them telling me how much they liked a script I wrote while under the influence of a sinus infection. Listening to them for a good fifteen minutes, describing in detail exactly how the various elements of the script were really, really good was…

Well, it was excruciating.

A couple years back my wife got to meet Marv Wolfman, briefly. A huge New Teen Titans fan, she naturally told him she loved his work, or something along those lines. His response is burned into my (and T’s) memory: “Thanks, but you’re deluded.”

T still gets conversational mileage out of “the time Marv Wolfman dissed her.” I’ve tried to convince her what he didn’t intend to insult, or at least not insult her. But she’s not buying it. Or maybe she does buy it but thinks her version makes for a better story.

If so, I wish she’d tell me this was the case; Marv gave me my best-paid writing work to date, and I’d feel a bit more comfortable if my wife accepted, as I do, that his off-the-cuff remark was made in a self-deprecating vein.

I’m certain it was; I mean, I’m absolutely 100% sure of it. Even if I hadn’t been there to see the exchange, I’m pretty sure I’d be certain this was the case. Because “Thanks, but you’re deluded” is exactly the sort of thing I can see myself saying if someone stepped in front of me and told me how great something I wrote was.

In theory, I like receiving compliments as much as any creative person who isn’t sure they’re good enough to be spending all of their time being a creative person rather than something useful to society, like a bricklayer or human guinea pig for experimental drugs. In practice, I absolutely love receiving compliments by e-mail, mail, even a telephone message.

But people who have the misfortune of trying to compliment me live in real time probably don’t get that impression. Because I am incapable of gracefully taking a compliment, unless I have some way to prepare myself for receiving it.

I’m pretty good with criticism, or at least I like to think I am. The suitable response to any given piece of critique is generally pretty obvious to me: ignore it, thank the critic for taking the time to offer their thoughts, make changes necessary to resolve the critic’s problems…that’s no problem.

The suitable response to a compliment is pretty obvious, too: “Thanks.” But, somehow, it never quite feels like that’s enough. When these situations occur (which isn’t often, but it has happened), there’s almost always an awkward pause as I and Person who had the misfortune to tell me they liked something I did wait to see if either of us is going to say something else.

And it’s into that awkward silence that I might feel compelled to insert a comment along the lines of “But you’re deluded.”

I mean, SOMEthing’s got to go in there, right? And on the whole, when I tell an author I like that his work is great, I’d rather have him say “Thanks, but you’re deluded” than “Thanks, I know.” Even though he does know. I know he knows.

All writers know their work is great, or at least believe it to be. If they didn’t, they’d never show it to people, never mind expect people to give them money (or compliments) for it.

But just because they do believe their stuff is great, there’s no reason in the world to act like they believe it. Because at the end of the day, yes, work that’s successful almost certainly displays some degree of craft in its execution. But excellent craftsmanship is by no means a guarantee of success. The most successful writer in the world may well be the best writer in the world--but getting to the top of the heap? That has as much or more to do with luck as it does with skill.

Best to at least ACT humble. Even if you do end up inadvertently insulting people’s wives occasionally.



But he’s probably the only one who has a chance of getting it. Like much of THE HOLIDAY MEN, anyone who isn’t me or Nick is probably not going to see anything funny in this sub-section. If you’re not Nick, move along. There’s nothing to see here.



Bored? Check out me waxing philosophical about the art of writing dialogue at Maple Ink Comics, and the demise of the comic book at Canadian Geek. Then you’ll know what boredom REALLY is.



Frequent Buffy writer and current Battlestar Galactica producer Jane Espenson has started a blog in which she discusses various aspects of writing a pilot television script. I wish I’d had this blog to refer to when I wrote my spec pilot a couple months ago.

But my manager and her partner liked what I came up with and are planning to “go out” with it. So everything’s turned out about as well as it could have, regardless.

Still, anyone with an interest in writing in general and television pilot writing in particular should check it out.



MR. NICK said...

Very interesting blog today, Foley. Truly insightful:)

Seriously though, I have the exact same problem. I eagerly show off my work and then, after receiving a compliment, feel ashamed for doing so. Creators are weird.

MR. NICK said...