Respecting Other Writing Disciplines

Over the years, I’ve been hearing both veteran and amateur fiction writers chirp, “Screenwriting is easy!”

What they mean is: bad screenwriting is easy. Poetry is easy to write, too — bad poetry, that is. (Lord knows we’ve got plenty of examples of that in horror. Examples that have even won Bram Stoker Awards.) People seem to think that all you have to do is write a few words per line — hey, it doesn’t have to rhyme, right? — and voila! A poem!

It’s so EASY!

No, dumbass, it’s a BAD poem. A GOOD poem — like a GOOD screenplay — takes years of study, sweat and practice to write. A huge number of people will never write a good screenplay or a good poem. Not because they’re not talented writers, but because the rules and finesse of the discipline escape them. Some people, though, can learn. It might take years of practice and study, sure. But just because they can write in one discipline doesn’t mean their writing extends to every discipline out there.

It’s especially appalling when professional writers use this “easy” talk. We need to respect one another’s disciplines. The only thing the various disciplines have in common, folks, are words. The rest takes study, discipline, savvy and talent to write for well.

It’s like the French chef who specializes in his own ethnic culinary arts stepping in and saying, “Oui! I can make ze sushi. C’est facile! You just roll ze raw fish in the ze rice, non?” We would call that arrogant, wouldn’t we? It seems fiction writers — or whoever — don’t seem to realize how insulting this attitude is to the professionals who make their living writing screenplays or what have you. There’s a reason that poetry collections full of work by people who are not poets often suck. Brilliant fiction writers often write abysmal, coltish poetry. Why? Because they are not necessarily poets. (Most, I say, are not poets and can’t write their way out of a wet paper Plath.)

I see this play out at Uncle Walt’s all the time. We’ve had some enormously talented writers take the test for the job I do and fail. It’s not because they aren’t brilliant writers. It’s because this kind of writing not only takes training and talent, but it also takes the ability to mimic the various voices of Uncle Walt’s websites. Sure, it looks “easy” — as does poetry and screenwriting — but not everyone can do that well enough to be paid for it.

And neither should you expect it when you approach a new discipline. Yes, I think there are people who could do my job who simply haven’t tried yet. But no, I don’t think it’s “easy” and that anyone and his pet banana can do it who happens to be a writer.

So, the next time you’re approaching a new discipline — whether it’s screenwriting, poetry, memoir, or what have you — please have some respect. Don’t assume that just because you can put words in respectable order that you can write well in a form that’s relatively new to you. It’s arrogant and insulting to the people who have worked in that area for years.

The world doesn’t afford writers much respect to begin with. Let’s at least give it to one another.

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