First of all, huge thanks to Mary for her comment pointing
out Kay Reindl’s Seriocity blog post “ripping me a new one!” (Kay wrote a response to my response to Josh Olson‘s Village Voice piece, “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.”) Josh Olson then posted a response to this blog in Kay’s comment section. Click HERE to read Kay’s response and Josh’s comment (once you’re there, scroll down a bit to read Josh’s comment).
Secondly, huge thanks to Kay and Josh for reading this
blog and responding… even if you gave me a whipping. I genuinely appreciate you guys taking the time to respond,
even as you’re kicking my ass.
Having said that…
KAY — I think you misunderstand me as much as you contend I
In response to my notion that “you should encourage
everyone” who wants to be a writer, Kay writes…
“I do NOT believe everybody should be encouraged. That kind
of thinking leads to what we have now, which is a grandiose societal sense of
entitlement. THIS IS BAD. No, you DON’T get encouragement if you suck at
something. And if you are desperate to keep doing it, then you GET BETTER AT
IT. You prove them wrong. And guess what? The win is greater. People treated
you like a capable adult. They didn’t lie to you and hold your hand and tell
you that even though you have no talent at this, YOU STILL DESERVE A SHOT JUST
AS MUCH AS SOMEONE ELSE. That’s bullshit.”
You are totally correct. That IS bullshit.
And that’s also not what I said.
(Or as Josh suggests, I never said we should “encourage people to do
what they can’t.”)
I don’t believe in telling someone their crappy script is
gold. I don’t believe in telling
someone who’s talent-less that they’re talented. I don’t believe we should give overall deals to people who
win reality shows. AND I DIDN’T
What I’m saying is…
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE GOOD OR BAD… AND YOU DON’T EVEN
HAVE TO PUT YOURSELF IN THE POSITION TO FIND OUT. As Josh would say, “Don’t read their fucking script.” (In fact, I’m pretty sure I agreed with this, saying, “You don’t have to read someone’s work… and, to be honest, I think you’re perfectly right not to,” and “It’s unprofessional… to
ask strangers or acquaintances to read your work,” and even– “Part of your job as a professional writer… is to be able to gauge relationships and know when to ask
You can still applaud them for writing.
Most people leave high school or college and are TERRIFIED
of putting pen to paper… as perhaps they should be, because it’s FUCKING
HARD. Like Kay says, “it’s a
CRAFT, people. And a craft needs to be practiced and perfected. A craft does
not just happen out of nowhere. The anonymous writer who sells the big spec
probably did not crawl out of a swamp with 120 pages of magic in his flippers.
That guy’s got ten other scripts that didn’t sell. He’s been working in the
business for awhile, either as a writer already or in production or
You are totally right, Kay.
But those that can’t hack it will fall to the wayside with
or without your encouragement.
Hell, not a day goes by that I don’t think of falling to the
wayside. This business SUCKS. It kicks the shit out of me. But I also can’t imagine doing anything
Having said that, every struggling screenwriter out there
was US not too long ago. And by
“us,” I don’t mean A-list screenwriters, because I’m certainly NOT… I simply
mean anyone who has ever made their living with their words: TV writers,
screenwriters, journalists, non-fiction writers, novelists.
I also say that as someone who—quite honestly—would love to
have either Kay OR Josh’s career.
(Not to mention, every struggling wannabe could be us
AGAIN. How many great screenwriters
have been at the top of their career one day, then pounding the pavement,
begging for a job, the next?)
And the truth is: I DO want more people writing. A) If they’re good, I want as much
great writing in the universe as possible. B) If they try and fail, maybe they gain a new understanding
of exactly how hard it is, both creatively and professionally, to succeed as a
writer. And C) Whether it’s
aspiring screenwriters, brilliant journalists, unpublished novelists, terrible
poets, or private diarists… YES—I THINK EVERYBODY SHOULD BE WRITING.
I don’t care if you fail. I don’t care if you succeed. JUST WRITE. Put your thoughts on paper for your kids, an agent, an
editor, your husband, your mom—I don’t care. Express yourself through a screenplay, a short story, a song…
whatever puts a little truthful piece of you into the world. And if you’re terrible—FINE. Do it again. And again. And
again. Whether you sell something
or not, you’ll get better at understanding your own thoughts and how to convey
them through words. You’ll develop
a love and passion for playing with language. You’ll start to understand why stories are told the way they are and characters work the way they do. You’ll learn hidden secrets about yourself you
never before knew.
None of that is “insulting” the profession. I think we have the greatest profession
in the world. It’s hard, it’s
painful, it’s brutal… but if you have the talent, passion, and perseverance
to succeed, it’s totally worth it.
And “success” is not defined by making a million dollars. If you publish a poem—AWESOME. If you sell a magazine article—CONGRATULATIONS!
Success if USING YOUR WORDS TO MOVE SOMEONE. And more people need to do that. (If you can move someone enough to pay you– even better.) Sure, more people need to respect the
craft and hard work of professional writing… yes, I go crazy when I hear someone say, “I think I’m gonna pound out a spec script this weekend”… absolutely, it’s unfair to misguide someone by
telling them writing’s NOT hard… but people also need to NOT BE AFRAID OF THE SIMPLE ACT OF TRYING TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES– whether that’s in a story, an essay, a haiku, or a screenplay.
I also don’t believe that
simply asking someone to read your screenplay means you’re a crappy
writer. It’s a faux pas, definitely. It’s a sign of immaturity,
sure. It means you’re not yet professional enough to navigate this
business, without a doubt. But it
doesn’t mean you don’t have talent and can never make it… it just means you’re
GREEN. And being green shouldn’t earn you the scorn and derision of your “superiors,” people you admire.
I mean, come on, Kay– “…You suck as a writer. How do I know this? Because I’ve read your
fucking script. I read it when you submitted it to an agent or a TeeVee
show or, God help me, a screenwriting competition.”
Sure, these aren’t the best or most professional ways to break in. But not everyone doing this is– as you say– an “asshole” or “liar” who simply “wants that million dollar check.” There are certainly assholes and liars out there, yet I think most people are just green… or over-eager… or live in Topeka… or don’t mind trying any dead-end route they can to realize a dream. But does entering a contest mean they “suck as a writer?” Does that mean we should condemn them for TRYING? Is their mere attempt really that “fucking insulting” to you? I mean, hey– maybe they haven’t learned their craft, but maybe they were inspired to try by watching or reading something YOU wrote.
So by saying to someone, “Great job– I applaud you for simply sitting down
and WRITING,” you’re not saying, “Hey, kid—I think you deserve to be in the
game.” You’re simply saying, “I
know how hard this is… so whether you make the team or not—and frankly, I
don’t give a shit—I hope you come to try-outs.”
You can even say, “Listen, kid– I won’t read your script. And when you ask strangers and acquaintances, you look like an immature amateur. I’m telling you this not to be a dick, but because if you’re genuinely talented, I truly hope you make it. God knows the world need more good writing… and maybe you’re the one to provide it.”
If saying THAT to someone is insulting or threatening, your
issues might run deeper than simply taking pride in your craft.
JOSH — re: your comment that I have a “lack of respect [you]
find to be common among people who think a little success qualifies them to
You’re right… I only have a “little” success. However, you are COMPLETELY WRONG to
suggest that “success” has ANYTHING to do with teaching ability or
qualifications. And to borrow a
concept from Kay, THAT is insulting to the profession of teachers.
Writing and teaching are two completely different skill
sets… and I have to believe that you know that.
Writing is writing; it requires structuring skills, dialogue
skills, knowledge and experience and hard work in plot and character
development, joke-writing, etc., etc., etc.
Teaching requires an understanding and appreciation of a
subject—whether it’s biology, history, math, or screenwriting. You have to know how to articulate
ideas… make them understandable and applicable to novices… you have to inspire people to try
I have taken screenwriting classes from professional,
top-notch screenwriters who couldn’t teach to save their lives and had no
business being in a classroom… but they’d been hired because they had
impressive writing credits.
I’ve also taken classes from people who had meager credits
as writers… but had a MASSIVE talent for connecting with people, conveying
complex ideas, inspiring students to try new things.
Robert McKee has barely worked as a screenwriter… but it’d
be tough to deny that he’s an AMAZING TEACHER.
Personally… I teach because I love it. I love helping people, I love passing
on knowledge and experience, and I love talking about a subject I adore:
writing. And frankly, I’m pretty
good at it.
Maybe I’m not as good as Robert McKee… and as a writer, I
may not be as good as Joss Whedon or Tony Gilroy… but if I keep plugging away,
and don’t get discouraged… maybe someday I will be…