Yesterday I was discussing a post on one of the forums I occasionally lurk in the background of and the conversation turned towards how vitriolic and unpleasant some unproduced writers can be. If you’ve never wallowed in the bile spewed by those who rant in public, then save yourself the bother … they’re just nasty and unpleasant and make you feel vaguely ashamed of humanity.
There’s a temptation to call them bitter and frustrated, but I don’t know if that’s really true or even an excuse. Would they be nicer people if they’d been produced?
I certainly think it’s an eye opener when you get personally attacked for the first time. You spend years working away in isolation and no one ever really gives you negative feedback. If you’re lucky, you get constructive criticism; but in general if someone doesn’t like your work, they lie, fob you off or just don’t really respond.
All you focus on is that first commission and it can take years. Years of self-doubt and frustration … and when you get it, when someone actually wants to produce your work … the euphoric high is better than any drug can supply.
And then the project is released and it’s not really how you imagined it. It’s been re-written. It’s been improvised all over. It’s been edited badly and it’s clear the director may have been aware of the script, but he probably didn’t actually read or understand it.
Still, it’s done. It’s your first produced work! You’re a proper writer, you’ve realised your lifelong dream and the proof is in the wild!
For about ten minutes before people start calling you a cunt, assuming you’re somehow related to the imaginary ‘powers that be’ and wishing you caught something unpleasant and died.
Eventually, you stop reading other people’s thoughts. Especially the nutjobs who seem to have decided you’re their nemesis and the reason they’re not getting work. You toughen up or stop caring or just learn to judge the finished project on how it makes you feel, not others.*
But that first time. That first batch of aggressive, violence laden, vitriol … the moment when you go from a person who’s achieved something they’ve always wanted to do … to a public entity who somehow deserves to be insulted and ridiculed … it hurts. It is, as has often been stated, exactly like being mugged. It’s bewildering and upsetting and … it’s just fucking wrong. Don’t do it! If you don’t like the project, fair enough … but how does that translate into personal name calling? Especially hurling abuse at the writer for writing a script they haven’t even read.
That’s really worth repeating. They haven’t read the script. The film or TV show or whatever is what happens to a script when other people (people the writer has no control over) get involved and change things. For good or for bad – the finished product is not what the writer wrote. The writer wrote the script. Which no one spewing insults has read.
And even if they had, criticise the product, not the person.
“I think the third act was rubbish.”§ is nicer than “You’re a cunt. I wish someone would maim your children.”
Anyway, the conversation reminded me of some of the abuse I got a few years back … stuff I still remember, even though it’s no longer upsetting.
Recently, while performing my duties as Lead Writer for Persona, I’ve had several writers contacting me and asking if they can write for the show. Which they can, there’s an open (if very long) list and everyone is welcome to have a go. The irony being two of the most prolific bile-spewers have asked me for a job.
Now, I don’t know if they remember insulting me. Maybe they insult so many people they don’t remember specific cases? Or maybe they don’t see calling someone they’ve never met names and wishing they were dead as insulting? Maybe they just see that as normal behaviour?
Maybe they do remember and think I won’t?
I don’t know.
What I do know is I remember them and my first thought is one of fury. Crush the imbeciles! Slap them down for their impudence! Time to wreak my revenge!
What shall I do? Shall I email them and remind them of their cuntishness? Shall I phone them and call them names in return? Shall I get them to write a script and then copy and paste their own bile into the feedback? No, wait, I should arrange a meeting, hand them a print out of their own abuse and then beat the living shit out of them, film it and put it on YouTube!
These idiots want something from me! They want me to help them after they were very, very insulting about me as a person (not a writer, not my work; but me as a person)! I could show them, I could teach them a fucking lesson …
But I won’t. Because … despite this long and rambling post … I don’t really care. If they want to write something for the show, they can and I will judge their work the same as everyone else’s. Revenge is an ugly thing to want and although a tiny bit of me will always dislike these people … I just don’t care enough about their opinions to act on them. Besides, maybe they were young or mentally ill or whatever … maybe they’ve learnt? I’ve done some awful things I’ve lived to regret, maybe they don’t do that sort of thing any more?
But I’ll leave you with this thought:
The Internet is a public forum. You are connecting directly with the people you’re trying to work with and people would rather work with people they like. Even if you’re not slagging off the people you’re hoping will commission you, they can read. They will Google you and they will form opinions of your work coloured by what they know about you from blogs, forums and the opinion of their friends.
You know, the ones you slagged off.
* This is a lie. It’s upsetting. It’s always upsetting, but you can’t help reading these things. It’s like poking at a sore tooth – it’s irresistible.
§ That’s still upsetting, but at least it’s about your work, not you. And is probably true. Maybe.