★ How Not to Be a Dick

An art­icle has passed my nose once or twice this week, ten­nis ball stylee. It’s by a man called Josh Olson, a screen­writer whose cred­its include the script for A History of Violence (itself based on the graph­ic nov­el of the same name). The art­icle is entitled — and the eas­ily offen­ded might want to cov­er their eyes at this point — ‘I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script’.

In it, Olson writes enter­tain­ingly about how he is forced to turn down requests by non-pro­fes­sion­als to read spec­u­lat­ive film scripts.

Here’s a bit that’s been quoted fre­quently around the web:

​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.

He goes on:

[…] If you’re inter­ested in grow­ing as a human being and recog­niz­ing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situ­ation, please read on.

Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you cre­ated this situ­ation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acqui­esce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very defin­i­tion of a dick move.

It is entirely pos­sible that the per­son Olson refers to here is a genu­ine dick. There are some twenty-four car­at dicks in the world; I’ve met some myself. However, there are occa­sions when a per­son puts you in a place where the only pos­sible out­comes will present you in a bad light because you can’t cope. It sug­gests to me that some grow­ing might be pos­sible on both sides. However, I didn’t write this art­icle to dis­pense pop psy­cho­logy. I’ve got some swear­ing of my own to do.

It rarely takes more than a page to recog­nize that you’re in the pres­ence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sen­tence to know you’re deal­ing with someone who can’t.

(By the way, here’s a simple way to find out if you’re a writer. If you dis­agree with that state­ment, you’re not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also read­ers.)

My response to this is pre­dic­ated on being a teach­er first and a writer second. In par­tic­u­lar, I’ve worked with some people who find it dif­fi­cult to express them­selves in writ­ten English. Essentially: Olson, belt up.

It is a per­sist­ent and tox­ic myth that the world is divided into those who can write and those who can­not. There was a time when Olson couldn’t write a damn. Me too, and my oth­er writer friends. Like any appren­tice­ship, the road is long. Being labelled a ‘non-writer’ might well mean that your writ­ing is bloody awful — but that is rare. Most adult, nat­ive speak­ers of English who’ve read a good­ish num­ber of books, seen films, and can tell a story over the din­ner table or the pub, have the poten­tial to write some­thing that oth­ers might find com­pel­ling. Therefore, a pro­fes­sion­al writer can prob­ably come up with some­thing use­ful to tell the appren­tice writer.

Olson’s art­icle reads very much like a polem­ic writ­ten by a man who is pissed off with his cor­res­pond­ent (who replied to Olson’s dis­missal with a terse ‘Thanks for your opin­ion’) and prefers to share his response — essen­tially a ‘Don’t you know how busy I am?’ — with the world.

The thing is, would-be writers get vir­tu­ally no sup­port from the industry. Your manu­script will prob­ably get no feed­back from pub­lish­ers or agents bey­ond some­thing like ‘Your call is import­ant to us. Please hold and listen to Vivaldi for six months, then we’ll send you a post­card’. As a writer, you are expec­ted to present your­self to the pub­lish­ing industry fully formed. There is no uni­ver­sity for fic­tion (though some might think so). Manuscripts are not con­sidered with any due pro­cess or trans­par­ency. The sup­port net­work for writers com­prises, in effect, indi­vidu­als with­in the industry who are will­ing to give some of their time for free.

I’ve writ­ten about this before, but when I approached sev­er­al estab­lished writers about read­ing my debut nov­el, I did not receive what I’ll term ‘Olson’s Dick Response’ (i.e. ‘I Will Not Read Your Fucking Book’) from any of themWell, apart from one; but he didn’t swear.. You can see the product of that gen­er­os­ity in the quotes beneath the title of this blog.

I’m no angel myself. Would-be writers con­tact me with some reg­u­lar­ity, and if I have time — there’s not much of it — I’ll agree to per­use a chapter or two. A recent example is Stephen J. Sweeney’s The Honour of the KnightsThe cycle of books is called ‘Battle for the Solar System’. What’s not to like?. Stephen sent me a polite email ask­ing if I’d read the book and I said, ‘Sure.’ As it hap­pens, because of work com­mit­ments, I’ve haven’t got fur­ther than a couple of chapters in — but the book is good and I’ve no doubt I’ll get round to fin­ish­ing it. The first scene, in which the main char­ac­ter par­ti­cip­ates in a space dog-fight, is com­pel­ling and char­ac­ter-driv­en. Now, OK; there are typos and what­not. No big­gie. Stephen is pound­ing pave­ments and get­ting his book into Waterstone’s (I know that pain) and doesn’t need people like me telling him to fuck off. If I like the book, I’ll do the nat­ur­al thing and review it, maybe both­er someone fur­ther up the food­chain.

So, any­way: There are people in the industry who are not like Olson.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

2 thoughts on “★ How Not to Be a Dick”

  1. I just wondered when you men­tioned Stephen J Sweeney, do you think that hav­ing a middle ini­tial makes you sound more like a real author? (Kevin J Anderson, Iain M Banks, (I know he’s alsop non-M), etc)

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