★ 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.

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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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