The Guy’s Saying What I Said, Except About Screenplays

Hey, remember when I explained why I won’t read your unpublished work? Well, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson is here to explain why he won’t read your screenplay. You will not be surprised to discover his reasons for not reading your screenplay are very very much like my reasons for not reading your unpublished work.

It should be noted the comments to the article are filled with people outraged that Olsen will not read screenplays. These people, generally speaking, do not appear to be professional writers.

65 thoughts on “The Guy’s Saying What I Said, Except About Screenplays

  1. I’ve always been somewhat surprised that professional authors admit to reading anything at all, given the potential for litigation over trivial similarities between works.

    I guess actual, published authors are a lot less likely to engage in nuisance lawsuits than random people who’ve written something and are looking for attention.

    I don’t think JMS ever even attempted a lawsuit against the people who developed DS9 after he pitched B5 to them… and he’s not one to back down from a fight.

  2. I’m really surprised at the vitriol some of the commenters are spewing over at yonder link. (There’s the usual ad hominem, failure to get the point, accusations of hypocrisy, and racist crap being flung about.)

    And the funny thing is…I’m pretty certain some of those people will never even have a completed script, let alone one in condition to be critiqued.

  3. I just find this so odd that people do this. Of course, as a lawyer I get all kinds of requests for free advice. When I suggested to my brother who, on consuming my services for the nth time on some more random b.s., I might send him a bill at the stupidly low price of $50/hr, he balked big.

  4. I have gotten the sense that this is how it works:

    The appropriate way to broach the subject, I gather, is to mention to your professional writer friend that you’re writing something, but no more than that. If they do not immediately offer to read it when you’re done with it, asking them to do so will be an imposition.

  5. Hey Pathetic Earthling, just see if your brother ever helps you move, gives you a ride when your car breaks down, etc.

    I can understand not wanting to work all the time for nothing, even for family, but you owe him an explanation. Me, you could tell me to go to hell if I asked for free advice.

  6. tudza, I think Pathetic Earthling is right. If a family member, or hell, many of my friends and neighbors need rides or help moving, those are usually one-off, limited scope favors. They’re relatively small things.

    I think Pathetic Earthling noted that his brother regularly asks for free advice, since, lawyers are pretty expensive if you have to pay for it. I don’t know how technical you are, tudza, but I’m a computer guy, and everyone would ask me “can you fix my computer?” Something that normally requires paying the local computer shop or the Geek Squad or whoever a decent bit of money for. They’d balk if I charged (family or close friends and all), so it never turned into a business. These requests happen all the time, and quickly turn into an unpaid, obnoxious part-time job. As our beloved host has noted, writers have the same problem. Again, the question is, would you tack 20 extra, unpaid hours onto your work week?

    (Note: I solved my problem by ceasing the use of Windows 11 years ago, and replying with “I have no idea” when someone asked me why their PC was behaving strangely. Questions dropped off quickly. While not entirely deliberate, it was a welcome side-effect of using Linux exclusively.)

  7. Oh John, you just blew a chance at your next multi-verse, oh, I forgot your next is Nazi lesbian zombies and hookers? You’re off the hook. Eww… bad pun.

  8. @6: Considering I drove forty miles in the middle of my workday, rented a trailer, and hauled his car back, yeah, he’d better.

    My point, really, (and John’s and this fellow’s, I trust) is that of us who have readily transferable skills that can be bundled by the hour, its better to be clear up front than have to try to clear things up later. My own fault for not being clear about the limits of what I do for free. And, mind you, I will do rather a lot of stuff for free — but that’s because I want to do it (e.g., I spent a good fifty hours over the last year being sort of outside counsel to my friend in dealing his wife’s custody fight with her ex-husband — my compensation was two pints of anchorsteam and a 17-year old bottle of Glenrothes). I also made it clear to him when work would and couldn’t be done. But setting up parameters up front, I think, makes everyone happier at the end of the day. I had never quite done that with my brother and we’re both the more bitter for it.

  9. That is bizarre. I find it odd when writers host fan fiction on their own websites. IF a writer was a friend of mine I MIGHT ask him to look over my work IF he/she had some time.

    But I would never, never ask someone out of the blue to read my stuff.

    People need to change it to, “Should I ask my local mechanic what he thinks of the water pump repair I did on my friend’s car”. You wouldn’t think of doing that, why is a writer any different?

  10. To avoid these kinds of problems, John doesn’t read anything.

    Just sits around the house and watches Fox News Channel when he’s not writing.

    That, and old Nightranger videos.

  11. Merus wrote: “The appropriate way to broach the subject, I gather, is to mention to your professional writer friend that you’re writing something, but no more than that. If they do not immediately offer to read it when you’re done with it, asking them to do so will be an imposition.”

    Yes, exactly! Well said.

    We get asked all the time, everywhere we go, by all sorts of people, to read their manuscripts.

    So if you mention you’ve written a manuscript, it’s not as if we don’t realize you’d like us to offer to read it. We definitely DO know that. And in the rare instances where it’s a good idea, we’ll offer. The rest of the time, it is indeed best just not to ask.

    And most of the time, it’s not only not a good idea for us to read it, it’s also a pointless request from the aspiring writer’s perspective. The aspiring writer fantasy is that the author will say, “This is brilliant! I must show it to my editor! My agent wants to talk to you!” This fantasy is fueled by a few well-known examples where this happened, and that Cinderella story is widely publicized (but, be it noted, usually inaccurate).

    But the reality is that: (a) There’s considerably less than a 1% chance of that happening. And even if we really do LIKE the book, it’s probably not right for our editor or our agent, and we’ll know that up front; or we won’t know it, and we’ll show it to them, and they’ll reject it, and so nothing has been accomplished; and/or our editor or agent has already said, in a previous instance, “Stop sending your aspiring friends to me, you’re wasting my time, you schmuck.” (b) The vast majority of the time, that’s NOT going to be our reaction to the book. SOMETIMES our reaction will be, “With more work, you can probably make this professional quality and start submitting it to publishers.” MOST of the time, we will simply agonize, the way Olson talks about doing, about how to be kind and constructive without actually lying to you, because the work isn’t professional quality and, indeed, shows no signs that its author will EVER write anything of professional quality (by which I don’t mean a work that evinces a basic command of grammar, punctuation, and rudimentary story structure).

    Finally… MY good (or bad) opinion of the work is absolutely irrelevant. So is my opinion of how to make your work better. (I, after all, would’ve told Dan Brown that DA VINCI CODE was too derivative, predictable, and poorly written for publication.) Moreover, my LOVING your book will not in any way improve its chances of selling. What will sell your first book is the exact same thing that sold my first book many moons ago: Present it professionally to editors (or agents) who think it’s good enough to pay for and publish.

    Laura

  12. I spoke up for Josh in the comments. Then again, I’ve been paid to write and have had several plays produced. I was also asked to read what has to be the worst screenplay I’ve ever read. The formatting was incorrect. Jeebus Kristo, people, get your formatting right.

    Anyway, I gotta get back to work on my new screenplay, currently titled: “YOU LIE!: The Addison Wilson Story. The Musical.”

  13. Go ahead, be a dick. What’s the problem? Here’s my theory on dickhood.
    Half the people think your politics are nuts. Half think your fashion taste sucks. Half think you suck at whatever it is you do for a living. I wont go into religon. With limited overlap between these and lots of other groups a large percentage of the population are going to think you are a dick anyway. So why worry about it? If they ask for free service say no. Let em think what they want.

  14. I have to work on my new screenplay, “Sister Christian: How John Scalzi Learned To Love Night Ranger”.

  15. Now that I have finally gotten my novel into a shape that doesn’t have me completely cringing, I have presented it to a grand total of five people–two close friends, two ex-boyfriends and one blood relative. I’m still waiting to hear back from any of them, but that’s pretty much the price I pay when I ask favors like this from people with lives.

    The idea of shoving my work into the hands of a stranger and asking them to put their spare time into reading it just horrifies me. How do people manage to do that?

  16. There’s a huge difference between being a friend (even an online friend) of someone and being a random person from internet forums, or even a plain old random stranger.

    Now, if I was an aspiring novels, which I’m not, I could get friends of mine who happen to be editors, agents, or writers to read a book I was writing. But that’s because these people are my *friends*. J. Random person I met online, or at a con would be rightfully indignant if I asked them about anything.

    And, of course, Laura has it exactly right – even if I get a novel through a writer, passing it on to an agent is probably going to get me nothing but a rejection letter.

    What *wont* is if I write (a) something the agent is trying to find a market for and (b) something good. If I could do that, chances are I’d be published by now.

    So, um, write good stuff that’s marketable, and get lucky enough to find an agent who’d help.

    On the gripping hand, connections don’t hurt once you’ve started to sell. If you’re establising yourself, marketing your “brand” can be important.

  17. My sympathy is entirely with the writers. They have nothing to gain, and much to lose, reading unpublished manuscripts and screenplays.

  18. So I reread your blog entry, and read the article you linked to, and read the comments on the article you linked to. On the whole, I’m on your (and Olson’s) side — professionals should be compensated for their time and expertise. (I’m a physician, and I can relate to the “doc, can you take a look at this?” line of argument.) But here’s the thing… occasionally I do offer a professional opinion to people I barely know. I, myself, have benefited from the insights of people I have met at cocktail parties. So I guess I’m curious — John, while you were an up-and-coming writer, did you ever solicit feedback from people you barely knew? Are you advancing the position that it is *never* appropriate to solicit advice from established presences in a field you aspire to? My sense is that you are taking a more nuanced tack, and that while you don’t want to bothered by wannabes, you may be open to people who have taken the time and trouble to really make some sort of effort as an author. I guess the question I really am interested in is this: do professionals have any sort of mentoring obligation to aspiring professionals, or should it all be left to the marketplace?

  19. misanthrope:

    “John, while you were an up-and-coming writer, did you ever solicit feedback from people you barely knew?”

    No.

    In any event “soliciting advice” is not the same as asking someone to commit to reading hundreds of pages and then give detailed notes on the read. I give lots of advice; outside of a workshop setting, however, I don’t read other people’s unpublished work.

  20. My profession – physician – is such that if I don’t answer a “whaddya think about …………….” or a “hey, can you tell me about …” question, people automatically think I have a god complex and that I’m one of those docs who doesn’t give a lamb’s tail-wiggle about my patients.

    I’m in primary care. I get paid peanuts to use my brain while surgeons get paid macadamia nuts to use their hands and radiologist get paid real money for looking at weird pictures.

    And no one pays the ‘going rate’ in my profession – it’s all discounted because of the powers-that-be that rule health care reimbursement say that it is.

  21. “Outside of a workshop setting, however, I don’t read other people’s unpublished work.”

    Understood. You may rest easy in the knowledge that I will never send you a manuscript of my take on the Great American Novel (which is no skin off my nose, since 1. I’m not a writer, aspiring or otherwise, and 2. the Great American Novel has already been written, and it is called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). I’m still interested in the larger question of whether professionals have any sort of mentoring obligation to the up-and-comers. Is there any role for altruism, or wanting to share a passion for one’s work, or does it all boil down to the marketplace?

  22. Misanthrope wrote: “But here’s the thing… occasionally I do offer a professional opinion to people I barely know. I, myself, have benefited from the insights of people I have met at cocktail parties.”

    I give professional advice for free ALL OF THE TIME. I tend to slip out of the conversation as quickly as possible when it’s clera (within moments, usually) that I’m talking to someone who hasn’t done even the most basic research about publishing–which is very, very common.

    (Writing is one of the most competitive professions a person can aspire to, and someone who doesn’t do any research about it has no possibility of succeeding in it, so talking to them wastes my time.)

    But in any case where someone -is- pursuing professional publication seriously (which includes educating themselves about this business), I am very generous with my time in terms of explaining how the industry works, making suggestions, and answering questions.

    What I’m NOT generous about is spending hours or days reading someone’s MS and critiquing it. I draw the line there. Much as you would probably draw the line at someone who, at a dinner party, asks you to see, diagnose, and treat them as a social favor, rather than as a paying patient at your office.

    Laura

  23. I would just like to say as an expert beer drinker, the next person who asks what my favorite beer is will be required to buy me a round. (although I will drink a selection of your favorite beer at no charge).

  24. And here I thought if I said nice things about John on his blog he’d be willing to critique the 726-page-long twenty-five-year-old Lord-of-the-Rings-clone heroic fantasy novel I wrote when I was a High School Sophomore. Really, I mean, you don’t actually WANT to struggle through 726 meandering pages of handwritten drivel, what with the crabby penmanship, meandering plot-lines, migrating character names, all of which would be presented to you in the glowingly- brilliant ‘professional’ presentation of college-ruled 3-ring-binder notebook-paper, and, as a bonus, written entirely in red ink.

    No….?

    How ’bout the sequel, then ? Or maybe Laura R would be interested in reading it. Or, well, maybe she could pass it along to Mike. Pretty please…? It at least isn’t written in red ink. But it is handwritten on 3-ring-binder notebook paper. And it’s only 500-odd pages long. Surely it’s not too much to ask.

    ___________________________

    Yes…all of the above facts are true regarding two fantasy novels I wrote in High School. No…it would never occur to me in this lifetime or reality to bother any professional writer with them. Even if I transcribed them to actual professional manuscript form, it would not occur to me to attempt to wheedle such a thing out of a working writer. That others do is, as mentioned earlier…bizarre…at least in my perception of the universe.

    ______________________

    While I agree with misanthrope that the Great American Novel has already been written, I’m afraid the correct title is “The Grapes of Wrath”. :)

  25. @John Scalzi – I didn’t have time to read your earlier piece. Do you think you’ll have time to read a short thing I’m thinking of writing? It would really help me out big time.

    No neurons were fired during the writing of this message.

  26. I think I have a bit of a crush on Josh Olson now. And how much do you want to bet all the people writing ADAPTATION in all caps have never tried to adapt anything in their lives?

  27. The capper, as always, is that even if you did set aside precious minutes of your life to prepare a detailed, thoughtful analysis of their selfishly-pressed-on-you crap, anything other than “My God, you’re the next Saul Bellow!” is going to get a dick-move style tantrum, as Olson describes. Because, of course, these people are dicks.

    misanthrope @30, you’re mixing up a lot of issues here – mentoring vs. reviewing vs. advice. Mentoring isn’t something you do because a novice walks up to you and demands “Hey, you’re a seasoned pro. I’m demanding you set aside your own time for my edification.” Asking for advice is not the same thing as “here, do my work for me.”

  28. Persia@35–yeah, that was bugging me too, given how The Godfather, Casablanca, and, yes, The Grapes of Wrath were all adaptations. I have successfully adapted a film into a play and unsuccessfully tried to adapt Colin Harrison’s great neo-noir “Manhattan Nocturne.” Adapting is not a skill to be taken lightly.

  29. At best you ask your good writer friend for how to contact an agent that deals with your field of writing. Or an editor that takes unsolicited work(yeah but it used to happen). But you never ask them to comment on your work …till after you won the Hugo ;)

    /Friends don’t make friends read bad verse. But their friends will help hide the body.

  30. If I want our host to read my unpublished novel (well, at least pick it up and look at it briefly), I know exactly what to do.

    First, get a reputable publisher to publish it. Second, have them send him a copy.

    Based on previous posts I think it would be quite likely he’d at least pick it up and glance at it, and then decide whether or not to read it.

    It’s a simple two-step process – and I believe it’s got a pretty good chance of success.

  31. A lot of the comments in the linked article seem to be from people who believe that screen play writers generally get their start by getting someone they know to read one of their screen plays and push for it or otherwise pick it up commercially. Is this accurate? Or is there a more formal, commercial route?

  32. @30, misanthrope

    I’m still interested in the larger question of whether professionals have any sort of mentoring obligation to the up-and-comers. Is there any role for altruism, or wanting to share a passion for one’s work, or does it all boil down to the marketplace?

    Are professional writers obligated to mentor me simply because I want to write? No. Why? Because there is no reason for them to be. That they are a professional writer and I am an aspiring writer is a false relationship. We have something in common but that doesn’t create any kind of obligation.

    As to your second question, the way you phrase it makes it sound like a moral issue, that professionals who do not help those who are new to the craft are somehow being selfish and greedy.

    @John

    Have to agree with all of the reasons in the article. A number of authors I know won’t read people’s random work for these exact reasons and, especially when it’s a stranger involved, because they don’t want to possibly get sued in the event that something they create resembles the stranger’s work at all. Warren Ellis has an extremely strict “No posting writing or discussing story ideas” on his Whitechapel forum.

  33. As a lawyer, I’m quite happy to answer abstract questions that I can answer off the top of my head in 10 minutes. Anything more than that, and you need to formally hire me; in addition to the fact that my time and knowledge are valuable, there are malpractice liability issues.

    The two most ridiculous such requests I’ve gotten:

    1. (From my barber) – My cousin was renting an apartment to a guy, and he died; do you know how we’re supposed to dispose of the body? (Short answer: I don’t know–I’m an IP lawyer!–but try calling the police?)

    2. (From a family friend) – I invested hundreds of thousand dollars with my cousin’s real estate business, it seems to have collapsed with the recession, and he won’t return my calls. Could you write a threatening letter for me on your firm’s letterhead? (Short answer: No. No. Absolutely not. Are you insane?)

  34. Also @30 misanthrope: “Is there any role for altruism, or wanting to share a passion for one’s work, or does it all boil down to the marketplace?”

    Those are not mutually exclusive contingencies. Competition is why cooperation exists in the first place. Altruism is always founded in self-interest of one kind or another – or it rapidly ceases to exist.

    Most human ‘altruism’ is just trading in future favors. Person A might help out Person B without specific expectations of immediate reward, but Person B had better help out if assistance is needed later on, or he won’t be helped again. If there’s no expected future interaction, and the assistance won’t produce benefits for the helper, A has no reason to help B.

    Writers DO share their passion for their craft, and help people with their works. This usually occurs at ‘workshops’, where there’s repeated personal interaction and mutual assistance – and thus benefit – is the norm.

  35. Asked about computer ills, almost daily. Now I say that I don’t do Windows (and that Macs hate me, if that comes up) and the questioners usually go away. Actual Linux questions I sometimes answer; this happens about once a year in real life, and no, I don’t do internet questions!

    I do wish I had a Cream-Pie-Throwing Lazy Gun, though, for those who persist. Doesn’t damage them, just inventively and publicly labels them as deserving of laughter (and if I fired it at an undeserving target, it would hit me with its humor.)

  36. @42, Brian

    There seems to be a somewhat of a disconnect between what people think constitutes a reasonable request for help. Like with your example for instance, if you can give the advice with little effort that does not professionally obligate you to more work, then you help out but if it’s more than that then they need to pay you.

    Writers, I think, are fine with giving out pointers, snatches of advice, and other such things but more than that and you’re taking advantage of their professional skills and expertise that they should be compensated for. I mean, there’s a substantial difference between asking an author “What’s your advice for how to handle a rejection letter?” and “Will you edit this five hundred page, non-double spaced novel?”

  37. It’s funny that almost every IT analogy in this (and Josh’s) thread end with some variation on “Then I switched to a Mac and the questions went away.”

    I suspect there’s a whole other argument here, but for now I’m merely concerned that I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m still slugging away as the (known) Windows guy in the room!

    I wonder how much Mac knowledge you need to convincingly fake the conversion?

  38. Loved the rant by Josh. He’s so right. Can’t believe the people who are so selfish that they feel they can impose themselves on professionals like that.

    What Josh is too polite to say is that these people really just want a shortcut to success. They try to glom on the ones that have toiled in the trenches crafting their art, making their valuable connections in the industry for success. They’re parasites. How sickening.

    Oh, and did everyone see, frickin’ David Gerrold posted in the replies. How sweet is that? It’s like Zeus came down from Olympus for few minutes to toss a few lightning bolts!

    -tt

  39. Man, I just read that fucking article. what the fuck? Why all the fucking cussing? Can’t the fucking writer just say no without all the fucking swearing?

    And if he’s really feeling that fucking bad about making people feel like fucking douchebags, then fucking figure out a good fucking response:

    Q “Does this dress make me look fat?”

    A “I like the green one better.”

    For fuck’s sake.

    Q: “Would you like to donate to our cause?”

    A: “The check is in the mail.”

    fucking fuckity fuck.

    Q: “Would you read my manuscript?”

    A: “My agent says I’m contractually obligated not to read anyone else’s unpublished work.”

    I can fucking imagine how this fucking guy would fucking break up his relationships with women he was dating.

    Her: “Goodnight”

    Him: “Fuck off, I never want to see you again.”

    Dude, the fucking line is “It’s not you, it’s me.”

    If you don’t want to fucking lie about reading someone else’s fucking work then just fucking say “It’ll take days to read and comment on it, and I just don’t have that kind of time to spare.”

    That’s pretty much true for everyone.

    If you do have days of free time, then I’m not feeling sorry for you.

  40. While I can’t really disagree with any of Olson’s reasons for not reading manuscripts, I thought his tone toward his acquaintance was uncalled for. Olson created his own problem, and he knew he was doing so while it was happening. Sure, the request was dumb, but that makes the requester IGNORANT, not stupid or any of the things Olson called him. So, what’s the outcome? His former acquaintance is STILL ignorant as Olson didn’t attempt to educate him and now the guy thinks Olson is a jerk. The only thing that has been accomplished is that this guy won’t ask Olson to read anything else he’s written (he’ll just go to other writers he knows and annoy them). Maybe Olson thinks writing his essay will decrease the chances of this happening to him again? Not likely except at the margins. While Olson is apparently a skilled writer, his people skills need some work. He didn’t help his cause with me by implying that scriptwriters as a class were all skilled professional writers. HUH? He’s probably read WORSE than what he volunteered to read in this instance.

  41. Brian @42 – but you’re a lawyer! Don’t you know the law? Like, all of it?

    coolstar @50 – no, sorry, the guy would have decided Olson was a jerk no matter what.

  42. @mythago Perhaps, perhaps not. I get asked stupid questions about astronomy all the time, including people wanting me to read their wondrous new “theory of everything” or their manuscript on why the Big Bang never happened. I always decline, but very few of those people go away thinking I’m a jerk. Some of them even get educated in the process. Harder to deal with are those who really, truly want to be astronomers, but can’t get thru first semester calculus. Yes, things like this can be annoying and time-consuming to deal with, so what? It comes with the territory.

  43. mythago: no, sorry, the guy would have decided Olson was a jerk no matter what.

    Ah, wait, that actually explains the anger and cussing.

    first iteration:

    Alice: Would you read my manuscript.

    Bob: no.

    Alice: jerk.

    Bob: I’m feeling pretty bad about this outcome.

    All iterations after, Bob assumes that the person will think he’s a jerk, no matter what he says or does, and therefore preemptively curses the person before being called a jerk.

    Charlie: Would you read my manuscript

    Bob: Fuck no

    Charlie: Jerk.

    Bob: I’m feelling much better about this outcome.

    Hm…

  44. The first time I read something like this – perhaps it was here – I blogged about it myself, it surprised me so much.

    It seems to be just professional writers who feel this way. During the several periods when I’ve been trying to learn to play guitar, other guitarists have gone out of their way to help.

    People will cross the street to talk to someone with a guitar case in their hand. Teach you stuff. Write out tab longhand to help you. Sit down and figure out chords for things you want to play. One lent me a guitar and amp for a period when I was a teenager; when I, as a young teen, admired the 50’s Strat of a jazz player in a club, he turned it over to me to play, right there, during the intermission.

    It may be a competition thing, I suppose. The average guitar player doesn’t assume that you’ll fight them for a place on the vanishing mid-list or take up another rare slot with your screenplay. It could be that music is naturally more co-operative than writing. It could be that other musicians learn by watching others, even amateurs, while writers think they’ve got nothing to learn from reading an unpublished work.

    Well, whatever. I don’t write screenplays and I’m unlikely to meet what’s-his-name.

  45. coolstar @52: I can’t really answer the “so what?” any more than Scalzi did in his piece about writing. If you have all the time in the world to deal with people who think you owe them as much time as they care to take up, more power to you.

    As somebody who does a lot of mentoring for junior attorneys, I find that there are two types: the ones who ask me questions to learn how to do it themselves, and the ones who want me to do their work for them. The first group might have a godawful mess of a motion, and not know the first thing about civil procedure, but by god they want criticism; they want to get it right, and they want to do it themselves. The second group gets pissy if told “this is wrong” and argues why it’s right; they don’t want to bother looking up the basics, they expect you to spoon-feed the basics to them; and they’ll take credit for all the good parts of the final work, while blaming any bad parts on you. And they’ll smile and thank you while muttering “jerk” as soon as they think your back is turned.

  46. Oooh me, pick me! I totally will read your unpublished novel/screenplay! For some strange reason, I absolutely love making red marks all over the place on other people’s stuff. Haha so if you want someone to tell you how much you suck, I’m your gal!

  47. Lyle Hopwood:

    “It seems to be just professional writers who feel this way.”

    Yeah, not so much. I know professional musicians who won’t listen to demo tapes, or forward them on. As with writers, there’s not enough time in the day, and they don’t want someone accusing them of stealing work.

    As for guitarists being all superfriendly, etc., well, you know. I know lots of writers who will endlessly talk craft and make suggestions and offer advice and so on, which is the equivalent of what you’re talking about. I also know lots of writers who will help fellow writers in need.

    So: No.

  48. During the several periods when I’ve been trying to learn to play guitar, other guitarists have gone out of their way to help.

    Oh god yes. One of my lab partners way back in college first got me into playing. He’d show me chords and scales and stuff, loan me his guitar. I eventually bought a cheap axe to practice on. He kept showing me stuff.

    Then I ran into another student who use to play professionally. My god. He’d invite me over to his place and tell me to bring my guitar. He’d show me something, I’d try to play it. We’d spend hours doing this.

    A guy I worked with used to play professionally too. He kept inviting me over to his place and we’d jam together a lot. We eventually played open mics a bunch of times.

    I’ve helped a bunch of people who wanted to learn. teach them some chords. Loan out my guitars. I’ve got a Gibson out on loan right now. I don’t play as much, but it’s definitely seems to be a cultural thing to help your fellow guitarists.

    Man, now you make me want to get out the strings and jam….

    In writing and reading, I’ve read some really bad fiction, but nothing was ever so bad that I couldn’t find something constructive to say. I did have a person ask me to read their novel one time and I said ‘no’, but didn’t make a big deal out of it.

    The article did mention something that I think is insightfully true. You can’t talk a writer out of writing. If you can talk someone out of writing, they’re not a writer. It seems to be one of the most brutal things I’ve ever tried to learn. It took a long time to learn a song on a guitar, but that was a blink of an eye compared to how long I’ve been trying to figure out writing. It’s something it seems that you have to work at for years before you finally “get” it. Maybe all that effort makes you cranky by the time you finally get there. I dunno.

  49. From the same logic which observes that free advice is worth what you paid for it, one might suppose that soliciting free critiques and/or feedback on one’s penmanship exercises would be less than optimal. One continues to be surprised at the inconsistent behavior of one’s fellow beings.

    misanthrope @30:

    I’m still interested in the larger question of whether professionals have any sort of mentoring obligation to the up-and-comers. Is there any role for altruism, or wanting to share a passion for one’s work, or does it all boil down to the marketplace?

    Just as an exercise, replace “professionals” with “any other sentient being” and see if the answer is any different. IMHO there is always a role for altruism – in particular the sort of altruism which has helped before Intellect has projected an ROI – but how can there be altruism if one already has obligations to help another? [1]

    htom @44:

    I do wish I had a Cream-Pie-Throwing Lazy Gun, though, for those who persist. Doesn’t damage them, just inventively and publicly labels them as deserving of laughter

    Darn you, sir, darn you and your timing. Just yesterday I finished reading Against a Dark Background for the first time… now half the complex is wondering who the hell is choking, snorting and laughing so hard he cna braley tyep i na ocherent fahsoin. [2]

    (and if I fired it at an undeserving target, it would hit me with its humor.)

    Well, that seems entirely fair. [4]

    ____
    [1] Which may explain why I’ve decided to assist in proofreading a 50k-word MS by an almost-complete stranger who aspires to writing for a living. Believe me, it’s not because the MS features vampires (I —ing detest vampires), nor because I would be mistaken for a professional save in very dim light.

    [2] If a Lazy Gun chooses me as its new plaything to be mocked, I shall blame you while suppressing the urge to duck. [3]

    [3] Ducking only guarantees that one gets hit with a cream pie – or many of them, perhaps thrown from low orbit. *splatsplatsplatsplat<drown/>splat*

    [4] A Lazy-Fair Gun? Best keep your hands off of it!

  50. Lynn,

    I’m an astronomer. I love answering questions from laypeople, as much as I joke about how half of them are ‘I saw something funny in the sky. Let me describe it in ways that do not help you at all, then ask you what it was?’* I don’t mind talking shop for non-astronomers, or answering questions. Heck, I just did a blog post on what the Moon would be like if Earth were tilted like Uranus. I’ll also happily dispense advice about grad school and majoring in physics.

    Where I draw the line is at the same kind of detailed work that Scalzi suggests. I won’t read your rejection of Big Bang cosmology and offer my opinion on the matter**. For one, I study the rings of Saturn, so am out of my league. For two, there are legitimate channels to get a paper or book reviewed by a scientist (peer-review) and this is a good way to get scientific attention. For three, if the emails I have to go by (and even as a grad student I get them, probably for having an email account that ends in astro.myuniversity.edu), you are probably a retired engineer who is missing something that the folks who took grad cosmology classes/General Relativity could pick up in five minutes. For four, when I tell you this, you’ll probably claim I’m part of the scientific establishment that is suppressing all ideas. This is doubly true if I don’t know you — at least with my friends, three and four are probably not true, and I can tell them one and two and they’ll drop the matter.

    * In fairness, this is because my department has an Ask an Astronomer program, and I’m one of the few experts that has stargazed before, so I actually know what a satellite or Iridium flare looks like.

    ** This has happened.

  51. I am not a professional writer. I would like to be. That didn’t stop almost the exact same thing as this happening to me this week at my work. I wrote about it on my blog and I am sure that by Monday I will be mud at work.

    Such is life.

  52. Lyle Hopwood @54

    I’ve been thinking about your comment, and the thing I think you missed is this. The article is about DICKS who want your help. A lot of people who were offended by it seemed like fairly nice people who would be angry to have J.O. scream in their faces that he won’t read their fucking script. I’d be offended if he treated me that way, too. But J.O. wasn’t talking to me. He wasn’t talking to most of the people here. He was talking to dicks. The kind of people who deliberately make you uncomfortable until you break down and do what they want.

    “You know, it’s been hard since my cat died, and poor me, and my mom and yours have been friends and I know my mom’s feelings would be hurt if I had to tell her that you wouldn’t read my script, and I guess she’d probably tell your mom . . . ”

    I’m sure there is a dickish equivalent in everyone’s field. Moreover, these people are almost never any good because this behavior is co-morbid with not wanting to do any actual work. If they are writers, they don’t want criticism, just praise. If they were musicians they’d want you to spend an hour teaching them tabs, but they wouldn’t practice on their own.

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