I will not say I will not read your f*cking (manu)script

An aspiring writer at Josh Olson’s door. “Please, suh, may I have some critique?”

WARNING: This post contains strong language. It actually has to, because…well, you’ll see.

Every so often, someone posts a link to this, a 2009 article by screenwriter Josh Olson bemoaning the fact that struggling writers ask him to read their work. If you haven’t, take a minute and read it. I’ll wait.

I’ll say this up front: if this article, in its content, tone, and execution, is an accurate representation of Olson’s personality, then I think he’s an asshole, because only an asshole would feel the need to pro-actively announce that he won’t read your fucking script. Only an asshole would think anyone cares.

However, the article keeps getting reposted, and some fairly accomplished people don’t feel that his self-righteousness self-pity is out of line. I do, and not just because I try not to be an asshole. I say it because, we should be better than that.

Who are ‘we?’ The ones lucky enough to do this for a living.

Last year, I filled in for a writer on a critique panel at a local convention. He’d been called away, and one of the other panelists asked me to take his spot. I did, and hopefully the writers who were brave enough to read things got some useful criticism. Afterwards, I was outside with the panelist who’d asked me to fill in, and two young women approached us. They apologized for missing the panel, and asked if we could still look at their submissions. My friend politely said no, that the panel was over and that, essentially, was that. I went along with it.

But I haven’t forgotten it, and I still feel bad about it, because it was the wrong thing to do. I have no doubt what the girls had to show us would have been pretty bad, but that’s not the point. The point is, I missed a chance to give back, to pay forward, to essentially behave in the exact opposite manner from Josh “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” Olson. Because unlike Olson, I remember what it was like to be on the other side of the line. I recall how it felt to have your nose pressed to the glass.

Recently author Pat Cardigan reposted Olson’s article on Facebook, and in the comments legendary author Jane Yolen defended Olson’s attitude, relating some pretty awful tales of people approaching her, one even at her husband’s funeral. I think we can all agree that that’s reprehensible behavior, but even if it is, does that mean we should be assholes back?* Does that mean we should announce to everyone, even people who haven’t asked, that we won’t read their fucking script because we are, as Laurence Olivier once claimed about himself, too fucking grand?

Sure, if you’re pushy and obnoxious, I’ll turn you down. If I’m busy with my own stuff, I’ll turn you down. If my kids need my attention, or I have a prior commitment, I’ll turn you down. What I won’t do is brag about how I’m turning you down before you even ask. And most importantly, I’ll try not be an asshole when I do it, no matter how obnoxious you are. Why? Because there are enough assholes in the world.

That’s the whole point of this, my whole plea to the Josh Olsons out there: you don’t have to be an asshole about things.

And that is something all writers, with the exception of Harlan Ellison, should be able to do.

*Just to be clear, I’m not calling Jane Yolen an asshole. Not at all. I sat beside her in the audience of the very first convention panel I ever attended, before I’d been published myself, and she was delightfully friendly. And truthfully, if you’re so ill-mannered that you approach someone at a funeral, you deserve what you get.

6 Comments on “I will not say I will not read your f*cking (manu)script”

  1. While I can sympathize with Josh Olson’s frustration (I get asked to look at people’s manuscripts all of the time, and I’m not even all that successful), I agree that he is being an asshole. It takes a lot of guts to approach other, more successful authors and ask them to read your work. I recently approached a few authors to request a blurb for my new book. Most were incredibly kind and professional in their refusals. I completely understand how busy they are, and I don’t take it personal. But one was kind of a bitch about it. It left me with a really bad feeling about this author whom I really respected. The moral of the story is that every author has to start somewhere. Treat others as you would have wanted to be treated. Pay it forward if you can. If you can’t, be professional about it.

  2. I’m with you on the “no being an asshole” rule. For writing, and everything else, frankly. It takes the same amount of energy to be nice as it does to be a dick. So why be a dick?

    And no, we can’t always spare the time to read aspiring author’s work. And yes, we have to be cautious when we do so, since there is always the risk that someone will come back later and accuse us of stealing their ideas.

    But giving back is important. I had so many authors give of their time and energy and generosity of spirit as I was traveling along the path to publication. I count many of them among my friends today. I try to give back to them by being an avid supported of their work, but when I can, I also pay it forward and try to help a newbie author who is in the place I used to stand. It matters. Also, I’m not an asshole 🙂

  3. This was an enjoyable post… making friends serves a writer better in the end… So be nice. 🙂 Plus, I think you’re just a nice person, Alex. 🙂

  4. Alex:

    I did follow the link and I read the piece. Yes, he does come across as an asshole and as the kind of person that I’m not willing to befriend (life is too short). I guess nobody ever taught that little shit that it’s possible to say “no” and still be a mensch about it.

    (And other than “A History of Violence” I’ve never even heard of the rest of the stuff in listed in the bio; methinks somebody has an over-inflated sense of their position in the universe ).

    What’s that line “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up because you’re sure to meet them on the way down”?

    One day he will learn that karma (and payback) is a merciless bitch.

    I think you’ve got the right idea. Nobody gets to where they are in life without SOMEBODY, SOMETIME, offering them a helping hand.

    But I’m not entirely sure what your last comment (about Harlan Ellison) meant?

  5. Your complaint is not that Olson won’t read a manuscript (something you also won’t do under a host of circumstances) but that he wrote a piece about it. I found his piece useful when I read it years ago – it’s permission to say no. New writers who ask more established writers for feedback are notoriously oversensitive and unappreciative of candid feedback. That is the point of his piece.

    A newbie who asks an established writer for feedback thinks her manuscript is hot shit. The fact she’s not asking her mom proves she’s hoping to impress the industry person, which inevitably leads to extreme disappointment when the writer hands back her work covered in red pen.

    I’m a small-potatoes NY published author and I will not read your manuscript. I once edited a friend’s resume and managed to offend her because I found too many spelling and formatting errors. It’s no fun for anyone.

    Read craft books. Takes classes from experts you pay, if you feel the need. Join a critique group of peers and learn how to improve *by critiquing others*. Put in the time to read their work before expecting the same.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *