Standing against the crowd

A friend posted this article, kindly. A warning to us all.

If you don’t feel like reading it details a submission by a scriptwriter to a producer – neither are named – but their correspondence  –  the increasingly erratic and long winded correspondence of the screenwriter who clearly believes he/she is second coming of Hitchcock – is laid out word for should-have-checked-with-therapist-before-you hit-send word…

The moral – this shit is why we make you jump through so many hoops.

I skimmed through eager – as I always am – to get to the comments section. I love comments sections. I’m horrified, fascinated, bewildered, infuriated, enlightened and utterly addicted to them.

Check out the first comment.

Right-minded authors simply don’t have that type of confidence in their work – if they’re good enough to write great work, they’re good enough to see the flaws in even the best pieces.

This sounds like smart advice, especially coming at the end of a rant that included the phrase, ‘They are 3 great, and I mean superb, highly commercial, easily sellable/marketable scripts’ and it was recognised as such, both there and on my friends re-post.

But it was this and the general attitude of the comments section that has made me put fingers to keys.

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The writer has been outed (anonymously) for ridicule and ridicule his fellow writers have delivered – in buckets.  I can’t help but wonder if even those who are relishing pointing out his grammar flaws and mocking his indignance, if deep down they are wincing, just a little. That behind the laughter is a tiny trickle of fear – what if I come across like that?

I’ve picked this article but I could pick any one of a million. Agents and publishers, producers and editors are familiar voices on the net and it would be downright impressive if you managed not to know what was expected in a query these days. which is why I was surprised this guy got a reply at all.

Rule number one of querying – never say you are ‘great’. You just don’t. It might feel like ‘well duh’, but gatekeepers like to advise us sane socially-adjusted masses of what one loony did wrong. Thus everyone knows  and even if you have managed that impressive feat of not knowing (while apparently having been in the business for a while) the guy you are writing to definitely knows it pisses him off. Read this if you don’t believe me.

This writer’s very first email was riddled with red flags. Putting aside the almost childlike voice of blithe confidence (although it was ringing alarm bells in my mind) there were issues of poor punctuation, copious spelling errors and generally poor grammar, which started in the very first sentence. Given I have never seen any issue in the publishing or film community with simply ignoring what doesn’t interest you, I have to wonder why anyone would reply to this at all.

Now obviously film and publishing do have their differences and punctuation etc isn’t as important in screenwriting, so I am going to give the producer the benefit of the doubt and presume he replied because he was impressed by the writers film credits.  I’m going to assume that the attitude that posts like this always reinforce was purely a coincidence and he didn’t reply because he wanted an opportunity to undercut this writer’s ego. That he didn’t in any way take pleasure in his dismissive ‘pretty derivative’ comment, even if there were a million neutral alternatives. Actually I am assuming he is a ‘he’, as I have no idea who this is.

We writers are constantly told how shit we are. And how wrong we are, especially if we think we aren’t shit. We are told that the vast majority of what is submitted to an agent is shit – if we bothered submitting and didn’t get a six figure deal, that includes us. We are given sterling advice like ‘kill your darlings’, warning that anything you feel proud of will undoubtedly be more shit. And just in case you somehow don’t think that applies to you there are blogs and posts springing up all over the place detailing all those irritating things writers do wrong, like use the word ‘was’. You really can’t escape that one.

The power has always lain with the gatekeepers, and self-publishing doesn’t seem to be changing that.  I know many writers who look on querying as grovelling. They speak of feeling uncomfortable going ‘begging cap in hand’. Many are now bypassing the entire process. They still stopped by to add their own SMH and facepalm to the comments section.  Why? Why is it we offer blind support to writers within the confines of writing groups but the minute we are exposed to the words of the mighty Gatekeepers we find it perfectly acceptable to turn like a pack of rabid, grammatically perfect wolves.

Is it the inbuilt effect of an authoritative voice? Is it the fear that our naysaying will be noted on some big list of troublemakers that all agents can see and if we ever do come to submit we will be automatically blackballed? Or is it the fear that if we don’t ridicule, pity, shake our heads, we are admitting we’re just like that writer.. That we dare to believe in ourselves no matter how poorly received we have been, that we are nothing more than a mad fool spinning hay and calling it gold?

It sometimes feels like belief, the kind in this post, isn’t true belief at all. It’s armour. Armour against those who want to run us down and steal something precious from us. True belief radiates from a person, rarely needs to be laboured. Doubt on the other hand often leads to justifications, pleas and even attacks. It is defensive, brittle, fragile. And uncomfortable because, like a mirror, it shows us our own vulnerabilities.

When I fear criticism, it isn’t the fact that I need to clarify a few points or cut down certain sections, lose the prologue that I fear hearng. I don’t mind if I have some wayward commas or the odd typo. What I fear is that feeling trickling down the back of my mind, ‘you’re shit.’ That fear that I am spinning hay, shit covered hay.

And it robs something I love of joy. It makes something I love, something I used to love.

This doesn’t mean stop the criticism, the criticism is not the issue, the ridicule is. The dictates, the brief dismissive rejections, if you even get a reply at all.  The jokes at our expense that we are expected to laugh along with. And the utter hypocrisy of it. Please tell me the last film you saw that wasn’t ‘pretty derivative?’ Please tell me the last bestseller that didn’t contain a dozen clichés in the first chapter?

Isn’t it time we stopped the ridicule? Isn’t it time we took that fear out of the equation instead of building on it? Isn’t it time we stopped letting the people who profit – repeat for emphasis – the people who profit of our shit, make us feel like we need to grovel?

Go back read that post again but this time imagine it was your work that someone had just dismissed with ‘meh, pretty derivative’. Then tell me that your overwhelming feeling isn’t to laugh, ‘fool, those red lines are spelling errors not highlights for brilliant prose’, but to whisper, ‘I understand’.

 

 

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