"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," Samuel Johnson wrote, probably for pennies per word.
Last week, longtime communication correspondent and Writing Boots reader Amy Gooen sent me a Village Voice piece and asked if I'd written about it yet. Surprising I hadn't, since it was published in 2009 and I've written about everything else since then.
"I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script" is right up my alley: Mean-spirited, and full of truth. It's worth a read, but in case you don't have time, it's by a screenwriter you may or may not have heard of named Josh Olson, and here's the nut of it:
You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it's not a huge imposition. It's not your choice to make. This needs to be clear–when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you're not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you're asking them to give you—gratis—the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.
On the one hand, that's absolutely right. Writers (and editors and graphic designers and photographers) need to defend their time and expertise, because people do take advantage in ways that they wouldn't, actually, take advantage of a house painter. And it's worse than "look at my script." It's "look at my résumé," "look at my new blog," "help me create an online dating profile." And I've seen what happens to writers who frequently do jobs at cost (which means, in the case of writers, for free). They get nothing done and they do not make a living.
On the other hand, writers aren't the only people that people take advantage of. You think doctors don't get asked for free advice all the time? Finance people? Lawyers? I have had my ass absolutely saved in the last year by several well-paid professionals who went to many years of school for it and who worked for me for free for no other reasons that they are my friends and they saw that I was in trouble and I asked. These people, too, could have taken the attitude that our busy screenwriter took. But they didn't.
I've had lots of friends help me over the years, but this was the first time I ever had my ass saved. And it changed my attitude about giving my talent for free. If you are my friend and you are seeking advice or help with something that I can truly help you on, I will do my very best to lend you my skills, and it does not matter how great or small or glorious or mundane the project. If I can make the time, and if I can help, I will make the time and I will help.
Obviously, that promise is complicated—how close a friend do you have to be, what if you're just a friend of a friend, how much will I do for you before I ask for compensation and what do I mean by "if I can truly help."
I haven't become a saint. I have simply moved from I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script … to I Will Help You if I Can.
For a 47-year-old guy, that's a pretty big move. (And if I know Amy Gooen, I bet she's been here all along.)
Kurt Vonnegut concluded, "We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."