Every now and then - usually in the darker corners of the internet - I see one belligerent jackass or another accusing pro screenwriters of trying to sabotage other aspirings. Sometimes this is prompted by posts like one written by Geoff LaTulippe last week. In it, Geoff lays out the long odds against one ever making it as a pro writer. I guess that this provoked a few people into accusing Geoff of trying to discourage aspiring writers because he "doesn't want the competition."
This is one facet of an ugly attitude that I really, really despise, which is the "Fuck the pros!" retort. I've met a lot of pro screenwriters in my time out here and I'm hard-pressed to think of any who weren't incredibly nice people. I'm sure there are a few egotistical jackasses out there (they exist in every profession), but the vast majority of TV and film writers whom I've met have been very friendly, and often very encouraging to aspiring writers. This is often tempered with some harsh realities, true. But I've never met a writer who seemed driven to scare other writers away just to thin the herd of competition.
Putting aside that direct experience, there are other reasons to doubt a pro is trying to scare people away. For one, being good enough to make it as a writer is HARD. Let's say that maybe one percent of those who aspire to be writers are actually strong enough to be a threat to the working writer. Is it really worth that working writer's time to set up some incredibly time-consuming resource like an advice blog, just so that a tiny fraction of those people who visit will be tripped up by disinformation?
Anyway, I bring all of this up because of a few blog comments from a recent post. Brainman asked:
This relates a bit to the blog post by Geoff LaTulippe where he sort of offered aspiring writers some encouragement through discouragement. He was then accused of attempting to discourage writers so that he'd have less competition. Many came to his defense on twitter, and I recall F. Scott Frazier saying something like "a rising tide lifts us all".
I'm just a naive outsider, but I'm inclined to believe working screenwriters over aspiring ones. I do have trouble fully understanding how it can be true that more writers "breaking in" more often helps those writers that are already working. Could you shed some light on this for me so I can get it through my thick skull?
F. Scott Frazier gave a response that I found quite sensible. Since I'd hate for that to be hidden and forgotten in the comments, I felt it merited being "promoted" to this post:
First off, let me say while I wish I could take credit for "a rising tide lifts all ships" unfortunately while my sentiment was the same, I said it in a much more awkward way. Someone else said the tide thing, and then I slapped myself in the forehead for not thinking of it first...
The answer to your question / query about why working writers would ever want to help aspiring writers, and how any advice we give can be taken at face value is somewhat long, but I wanted to break it down piece by piece. In doing so, it's going to be a little over-generalized, but this is the basic idea behind why I believe what I believe.
First off, let's say there are two ways writers build a career in the feature business: by selling specs and booking jobs. (Again, overly general, but let's start from there...)
1) Selling specs is not a zero sum game, that is to say if I sell my spec today, you can still sell your spec tomorrow. In fact, if you look at the trends, you can see that spec sales usually come in waves. Studio A buys a hot spec, so Studio B doesn't want to be shown up and they buy one too. The more specs sell, the more other specs sell. Yes, of course, studios and buyers have budgets for each year as to what they can spend on buying scripts, but the chances of Studio C buying your script and running out money to buy my script are so infinitesimally small there's no reason in even worrying about it.
2) On the other side of the equation, there are jobs, which unfortunately are zero sum games: if I get the job, you can't also get the job (but that doesn't account for rewrites and polishes which are a whole other can of worms). However, when jobs become available not every writer in town goes out for them. Lists are made, lists are cultivated -- winnowing down writers over everything from quote, genre, availability, desire, etc. So the idea that any professional writer would attempt to sabotage aspiring writers' careers because of the worry they might one day end up on the exact same on the exact same job is again, so infinitesimal as to worry about it...
Anecdotally, I've never known any writer who got pissed or upset with another writer for getting a job.
In all honesty, I personally think worrying about the veracity of advice from professional writers is akin to worrying about someone stealing your script. All it does it take time away from writing for something that, once again, is so unlikely to happen.