James O. Born
I was in Denver this last week at the Colorado Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s conference. I intend to blog much more about that next week. While I was in the Mile High City, I read an essay from the Village Voice by screenwriter Josh Olsen titled, I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. I did not want to edit the title or change the meaning or tenor of Mr. Olsen’s thesis in any way. I suspect a prick like this might try to sue me if I did. Did I just say that or think it? No, I said it. While I found the first few paragraphs of the essay on target and entertaining, I soon realized, as I waited for the punch line, that this guy is exactly the kind of professional who can crush a new writer.
Here is the opening:
I will not read your fucking script.
That's simple enough, isn't it? "I will not read your fucking script." What's not clear about that? There's nothing personal about it, nothing loaded, nothing complicated. I simply have no interest in reading your fucking screenplay. None whatsoever.
If that seems unfair, I'll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living.
This excerpt captures the tone of the article with an illustrating example to support his idea.
While I see his point -- all working writers have had the experience of being accosted by someone with a manuscript -- there is an snarky meanness to the piece that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I will say that this Hollywood tool brings up a couple of good points:
They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect.
What writer hasn’t met someone at a book signing who boasts that when they retire they’re going to write for a living. Good luck with that plan. It’s the people I meet at conferences who are learning the craft and know the odds of publication I try to take more seriously.
Mr. Olson also lays down one absolute truth:
If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer.
Now he’s on the money. I’ve always felt that if you’re not compelled to write don’t write. Everyone has a story to tell but execution is 99% of it.
On reflection, while I wrote this little blog, I’ve reevaluated my perception of Mr. Olson. Maybe he is set upon like no one else. He makes too many good points to be ignored. There were even a few chuckles in the essay. So why do I wonder if I’d punch this guy in the noggin if I ever met him? It’s the tone. I know he’s important. I know he’s busy. But guess what, so is Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Tess Guerittsen, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton and every other published author I ever met, but they never had to write a piece like this.
All of us are swamped. I have cops ask me every week about writing a book. When I ask them who they read and they say “I don’t read fiction” , I tell them to read a hundred novels then we’ll talk about them pursuing a novel of their own. You know what, every once in a while, a year or two later, I have someone call me back. And we talk. I also have to explain that I am sometimes more than a year behind in reading manuscripts. Another point Mr. Olson makes well. If they’re patient I’ll get to it. But I can’t bump someone else to the bottom of the stack.
Maybe I’m wrong and just not hip enough to get Mr. Olson’s style. I see his points, but I was put off by the essay. Am I wrong? Is this guy the new Mother Teresa dressed all black? Is he a jokester, and I, just a backward redneck who missed the joke? I hate when I do that, but it happens. What do you guys think about the essay and about reading unsolicited manuscripts?