Josh Olson Is Wrong

A few days ago, I posted a link to screenwriter Josh Olson’s
Village Voice column, “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script,”
in which he rails
against an aspiring screenwriter who asked him to read his script.

 

Now, first, let me say this… Josh is fairly
vitriolic in this column… and on certain
points, Josh is right.  For
instance…

 

It’s unprofessional, and a massive imposition, to
ask strangers or acquaintances to read your work.  This is why writers groups are valuable… or a tight group of
friends, fellow writers, whom you can always go to.  Part of your job as a professional writer (whether you’re
getting paid or not) is to be able to gauge relationships and know when to ask
favors.  If you can’t do this,
you’re not ready to work professionally… no matter how talented you may be.

 

Josh is also right that most people trying to be writers
will never make it.  But so what?  If everyone
could make it as a writer—or painter or lawyer or bricklayer or soldier—it
probably wouldn’t be a goal worth pursuing.

 

I also think Josh is justified in his anger toward this
inappropriate screenwriter.

 

However, there’s one place where Josh is wrong.  100 percent WRONG.

 

He writes: “…not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless,
but you cannot discourage a writer.”

 

And while you can’t discourage a real writer, I disagree
that you should discourage ANYONE. 
In fact, I think you should ENCOURAGE EVERYONE.

 

A)  Today’s
shitty writer could turn into tomorrow’s Ernest Hemingway… but only if they
keep writing.  At some point, Michael Chabon, J.J. Abrams, Virginia Woolf, and Josh Olson were all terrible writers.  But they kept at it.  Relentlessly.  And to do that they
needed encouragement.  Or at least,
they didn’t need DIScouragement.

 

B)  You could be
wrong about someone’s script. 
Years ago, I was working at a TV production company and my boss handed
me a feature script for a teen comedy called Grand Rapids.  It was one of the WORST things I had
ever read… I couldn’t even finish it. 
A few months later, it came out as a movie—American Pie—and it was one
of my favorite movies of the year. 
I had been totally wrong about the script… not necessarily because it
was a bad script, but because scripts sometimes need to be read by someone with
the right eye to understand what they are.  Clearly, I had the wrong eye; Chris and Paul Weitz didn’t.

 

C)  Why would
you NOT encourage artistic expression? 
Whether it’s a screenplay, a novel, a magazine article, a poem, or a
personal diary—why would you not want to encourage someone to WRITE?  To express themselves creatively?  Personally, I think MORE people need to
write!  Who cares if they never get
published, produced, bought, or read? 
Isn’t the simple act of writing, of plumbing our inner-most fears and
desires something everyone should spend more time doing?  In fact, more people—and it sounds like
Josh especially—need to write for the sheer joy of it, for the fun and thrill
of exploring who they are.

 

Personally, Josh, if you think writing is something best
left to the professionals, or the “non-hopeless,” you’ve forgotten what writing
is all about.

 

So you don’t have to read someone’s work… you can turn them
down when they ask… but it’s an insult to your craft and your fellow writers to
DISCOURAGE them… especially people who admire and respect your work enough to
ask your opinion.  You don’t have
to give it to them—and, to be honest, I think you’re perfectly right not to—but
how hard is it to say…

 

“Unfortunately, I can’t read your script.  If I read every script handed to me, I
wouldn’t have time to eat. 
However—the fact that you’ve taken time to FINISH a script… and that you
have the courage to put it out in the world… says you’re already miles ahead of
your competition.  So if this
script is meant to get made, it will. 
And if it’s not, it won’t… and you’ll sit down and write another
one.  Immediately.  Because that’s what real writers do… they
never stop writing.  And I can tell
you’re a real writer.”

 

So you’re right, Josh. 
Aspiring writers have a responsibility to act professionally.  But professionals have
responsibilities, too… and one of the main ones is not to discourage people who
want to be in your shoes.

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6 thoughts on “Josh Olson Is Wrong

  1. Jamie

    Olson just responded to your comments on Seriocity, pointing out – rightly – that you didn’t understand his rather clearly worded article.

    Also, his comment about discouraging writers just got listed as one of the great quotes about writing.

  2. Rayshell

    I definitely agree! I feel that all too often successful people forget where they began. It is important to remember that no one starts out a pro-they become one one with hard work and perseverance.

    (Thanks for speaking at TAN-learned a ton!)

  3. Mary

    If Chad’s looking for controversy, he needs to talk to Kay Reindl. She rips him a new one: http://seriocity.blogspot.com/2009/09/absolute-beginners.html.

    I think Kay is a bit bitter, but I understand both sides. On one hand, it’s inappropriate to approach a virtual stranger and ask them to read their script. On the other hand, it happens all the time and is basically one of the hassles of being a working screenwriter, so I suspect screenwriters need to handle it just like popular actors have to handle the paparazzi.

    And for what it’s worth, I think it’s great to encourage people to improve. I suspect Kay just doesn’t want the added competition. It’s hard enough to get a job as it is.

  4. Corey

    No, Tanya! Discourage everybody! Even yourself!

    (I don’t actually believe that, but I saw Chad speak tonight at the Actors’ Network, and he said he wanted to get some controversy going in his comments section.)

  5. Tanya

    Chad, you’re my new hero.

    After reading Josh Olson’s "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script", I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t figure it out because, as you point out, he is right on many points (I wouldn’t expect someone in the industry to have the time to read my script) – but now I get it. It was the overall attitude.

    You’re absolutely right when you say we should all be encouraging each other more. Stifling artistic expression is already enough of a problem today…the last thing anybody needs, especially from someone in a professional position, is discouragement.

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