This is the second article in a 2-part “Embracing Feedback” series. Click HERE to view Part 1, which focused on potential feedback sources.

You may be in love with your script and lyrics on the page – writers often go through a phase of initial fondness with anything they create. But that material may  not be working for others in the way you expect. This is why FEEDBACK is a vital part of the musical writing process.

Once you get feedback from others, it can be tough to work through those responses. Not only might you be in a quandary about how to solve storytelling issues, but your feelings may be hurt, your pride wounded by negative comments. Here are some perspectives that might help.

Learn to Detach When Working with Musical Collaborators

“Murder your darlings” is a common piece of writing advice. This sentiment reminds us that we may get too attached to what we create and have a hard time cutting it. Perhaps it took a long time to come up with an idea, and we don’t want to abandon the hard-earned material. But one of the keys to benefiting from feedback is being willing to let go and come up with something new if needed.

British bookwriter/director John Caird said in an interview: “The more shows authors write, the more they are able to murder their darlings. People who have only written one show get very proprietorial of their lyrics… ‘You can’t cut that–it’s the heart of the show,’ and it’s not. The experienced writer always knows there’s another solution.”

“The experienced writer always knows there’s another solution.” -John Caird

Caird worked with Stephen Schwartz on Children of Eden and Children of Eden Jr., and had this to say about the composer: “He’s extremely inventive. And he’ll throw out a lyrics that’s been in the show for 20 years…because he gets it. Because he has such an extraordinary facility for lyric writing and tunesmithery, he knows that there are 50 other ways you can crack that particular nut. He’s always in there with a new idea or new thought.”

“Live With it For a While”

While it may be wise to apply feedback, you can also suspend the decision to make a change for the time being. This is what Stephen Schwartz does he finds himself in a disagreement with a collaborator. He explains: “I will say, ‘why don’t you just live with it for a while? Let’s see how we feel about it. But if you are really feeling bad about it [later], then I’ll change it.’ A lot of times they change their opinion, but sometimes I’ll come to realize, ‘oh, that’s what’s bothering them!'” And together the team may find a new approach that is more satisfying for all. (Source: Theatre Café.)

The “live with it for a while” strategy was also one he used when a lead producer had doubts about the song “Popular” early on in the development process for Wicked. Schwartz later reflected, “If someone says to you that a song isn’t working, you think, ‘well, maybe they’re right.’ So when do you stand up and believe in yourself? When do you say, ‘I don’t care what you’re saying, I know this is right’ — when is it stubbornness or arrogance, and when is it appropriate conviction? It’s a tricky thing.” In the case of “Popular,” Schwartz stuck to his guns, and the song proved itself.

The Big Picture – Whose Feedback Do You Listen To?

It’s been said in musical writing circles, “There are three basic needs in life – food, sex, and fixing other people’s musicals.”

But that doesn’t mean that every comment will be helpful. After you listen to others’ feedback, be sure to reflect and evaluate the responses to see what aligns with your own goals and values.

This art of looking at the big picture has been well-expressed by fiction author Steven King:

Show your piece to a number of people – ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story – a plot twist that doesn’t work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or a half a dozen other possibilities — change that facet. … But if everyone – or even most everyone – is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

–Stephen King 

Pick Yourself Up After Negative Critiques

The feedback process should probably come with a warning: the following may be dangerous to your ego, your illusions about being audience-ready, or even your belief that you can finish the task. After all, if you’ve spent so many months and maybe years creating this musical, you have high expectations. Will you be given just the right nudge to get it right? Or a wet blanket to smother the whole endeavor?

It’s hard not to take things personally when it comes to your beloved creative efforts. But remember, it’s not about your worth as a person. There will be times when people don’t like your work, either because it needs improvement… OR, because they aren’t the right audience for it.

PRO TIP: Look up some of your favorite authors and writers’ works on Amazon… and read their one-star critiques. 

Many years ago, as I was sharing drafts of my Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity with a few beta readers, someone gave me a disparaging critique. I told Stephen how discouraged I felt, and he sent back this email message:

I thought I would remind you of a sign pinned to one of the walls in my house. It says:


In the end, if you’re going to attempt something, you’re going to get criticized for it. And the higher you reach, the more intense the criticism. If you let it inhibit or deflect you from your own intentions, then it becomes destructive.

So take it for what it’s worth to you, and use it to the extent it resonates with you (and ignore those aspects that don’t). It’s no fun to be criticized – I certainly speak from experience on that account. But I would rather have the work that I’ve done and the criticism it has engendered than have neither.

When All is Said and Done

Working with feedback is one of the most challenging and sensitive aspects of the creative process. Soliciting it and receiving it gracefully is a valuable skill that may improve with practice.

Additional Resources

Check out the following articles from Musical Writers about dealing with and responding to feedback:

In addition to the articles above, I recommend watching Elise Dewsberry’s “How to Get NO Feedback from Elise” videos, especially those in which she comments on feedback. Dewsberry is the Artistic Director at New Musicals Inc in Los Angeles. Her videos are from the perspective that, if you follow her tips and submit your show for evaluation, you will get NO FEEDBACK from her. (Meaning you’ve done everything right.) The two videos below focus specifically on dealing with feedback in general.

Finally, if you are craving some one-on-one feedback that will both encourage you and help launch your show forward, consider investing in one of our private coaching sessions, Table Reads, or script coverage offerings.