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.