On not reading someone else’s script
I just came across this strongly worded 2009 piece by Josh Olson. Although Olson uses harsher language than I’d choose (and takes a more hardline approach), I do sympathise. I get a lot of requests from people who’d like me to read their work and comment on it, or to help them get published (something over which I have very little influence). In some cases, I even get school kids writing to me asking if I can help them with assignments. Depending on all the circumstances, I’ve sometimes acceded to these requests. In some cases, they come from friends or valued colleagues who would return the favour, and this is all part of friendship and collegiality. But in other cases they come from people whom I hardly know or even from complete strangers.
Olson describes an occasion when he put in enormous effort to give honest but tactful advice on someone’s synopsis for a screenplay, only to find that all he got for his trouble was a rumour that he’d been the bad guy for not being enthusiastic about what he considered poor quality work. While this seems like a fairly extreme case – putting a lot of effort into commenting on a two-page synopsis – I have had similar experiences of doing my best to help someone, spending time on it for no pay, and then getting a hostile or at least passive aggressive response.
It’s amazing how entitled some people can be. For example, at one of the sessions at the Newcastle Writers’ Festival a person who was a complete stranger to all the panelists approached us before the panel started… asking us to read, and offer advice on, her short story. As Olson says, doing this properly would have involved a lot of work for anyone who agreed to do it, all for no pay. Perhaps she would have been grateful, but my experience all too often has been that I give people the best advice I can (in some cases putting in many hours of unpaid work) and they don’t even thank me for it.
It’s not the first time I’ve written on this topic, but it’s worth making the point now and then. In my case, if you approach me I may be more inclined than Olson to give you whatever advice or help I can, but I won’t be happy if you then act as if I’ve simply blown you off or been mean. In many cases, people seem to think that I have influence with publishers that I simply don’t have. Getting my own work published is hard enough. In other cases, people don’t seem to want honest criticism, even constructive criticism, just praise.
So, I’m not saying that I’ll never try to help. But if you are ever minded to approach me or other writers for help with your idea/story/book or whatever it is, at least bear in mind that you are asking for something non-trivial from the person you are approaching, and it would be nice to show gratitude if this person does actually give you some advice. Just a word to the wise. Of course, I probably don’t mean you, individual gentle reader, but this meme needs to get out there that the kind of entitlement I’m talking about does cause problems for writers who don’t like being put in the false position of being the bad guy.