please stop writing
by Burt Prelutsky
By this time, I was hoping that someone else was going to point out that there’s far too much writing going on in this country, but once again it falls on me to boldly state the obvious. Between books, magazines, newspapers and the internet, I’m getting the queasy feeling that everyone in America is busy writing and nobody is reading.
A less obvious truth is that there is also too much writing being taught. Of course one can easily understand the demand for such classes. Writing, after all, would appear to make for a nifty career. Besides money, fame and glory, there’s no heavy lifting involved, unless one becomes very rich and successful. In which case, the chances are you’ll need a wheelbarrow just to cart around your ego.
I happen to be opposed to writing classes in general, and, most specifically, to classes devoted to scriptwriting. I happen to know some instructors, and while I may like them personally, I’d prefer it if they were teaching a more worthwhile trade, such as plumbing, accounting or auto repair.
The fact is, I have taught writing classes myself, and while I may not have been the best instructor, I was hardly the worst. Better, though, if I had taught plumbing, accounting or auto repair. I’d certainly have a clearer conscience.
Back when I attended UCLA, I even took a couple of writing courses. The first class was devoted to articles. When I got back my first assignment, there was no grade attached. I pointed out the oversight to the professor, and he replied, “Prelutsky, humor is not writing.”
When I turned in my next assignment, he gave me his best steely-eyed look, and asked, “Is this humor?”
I said, “I hope so.”
He handed back the paper, and I walked out of the classroom.
The next time I took a college writing class, it was with an instructor who had made only two sales in his life. Both had been to what used to be called men’s magazines. Back in the 60s, the likes of Stag and Argosy would run red-blooded, manly articles with titles like, “I Love to Kill Crocodiles With My Bare Hands” and “I Was the Sex Slave of an Amazon Princess.”
As a result of those two by-lines, he had decided that was the sort of tripe we should all be writing. Again, I put on my walking shoes and left.
One of the troubles with teaching scriptwriting is that no matter how much talent the student has, there’s no actual market for his work. Just look at the dreck that Hollywood churns out, and you’ll realize what a pointless and pathetic exercise it is to write literate, witty scripts. In order to pay off at the box office, movies have to appeal to the dumbest people in society; namely, 16-24 year old males. So it is that most movies are full of exploding cars, sniggering sex, and a plethora of obscenities.
The money aside -- and you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery -- why would anyone with half a brain or an ounce of taste or self-respect want to pursue such a vocation?
The way I look at it, if you taught medicine or architecture or engineering, and after a number of years none of your hundreds of former students was earning a living in his chosen profession, you’d have a good deal to answer for. The exception, I suppose, would be if you had been teaching law for all that time. In which case, you would have earned the respect and appreciation of a grateful nation.
In conclusion, just in case you haven’t heard about ageism in Hollywood, you can’t even expect to get better as you get older in this racket; instead, you get placed on an ice floe like an elderly, toothless Eskimo.
The ugly truth is, if you haven’t made it big before you’re 35 and been able to salt away a tidy sum in tax-free munis, you’re going to wind up selling used cars or real estate. Or, sadder yet, you’ll find yourself teaching scriptwriting to the next generation of lemmings.