Ever seen a writer in a movie? Sure you have. They wear glasses and old, cashmere sweaters. They live in fabulous wood-paneled townhouses situated in the arty part of some huge city, or remote cabins in the woods with logs burning briskly in the fireplace regardless of the season. Three out of four walls in their writing rooms are bookshelves filled to bursting with leather bound books. They generally have their groceries delivered because they’re much too busy being creative to go out on their own. The handsome young grad student who delivers the groceries always seems to be a writer himself, hoping to catch the writer’s attention one of these days and wangle an invitation to study at the writer’s feet (either that, or he’s hoping to get very lucky the next time the writer finishes a particularly intense love scene.)
Writers in movies don’t have to wait for their work to hit the shelves. They write their books over the course of two or three weekends, in between raising a huge and loving family who need help with their homework every afternoon and hot, nutritious, home-cooked meals on the table every night. Writers in movies send their manuscripts off in big creamy envelopes to their agents, who call within a day or two with the incredible news that the book sold for a kajillion dollars. They have to go shopping in New York on the publisher’s dime to prepare for their multicity book tour and appearances on The Daily Show and Ellen, because the book will be hitting stores in a few days.
The other night we watched a movie called Limitless. The main character is a writer, who’s hit a wall with his book. Okay, he’s written “The” on the title page. His life is crumbling around him and he just doesn’t know what to do. He spends hours at his desk throwing a basketball against the wall in the hope of jarring some idea…any idea…loose. Showers? Food? Forget it. For that few minutes, the movie portrays a writer with more accuracy than I generally see on film. Yep, as much as we wish we could fit that cashmere-sweater-wearing stereotype, it rarely happens. We’re either typing letters so fast our keyboards are starting to smoke, or we’re wandering the house thinking “Laundry! That’s it! Another load of laundry and the words will just flow!” Or it’s something in the middle. Last year during the Renaissance festival, I was backstage during our midday break. I’d finished eating my lunch, and was relaxing in my chair, composing in my head, my gaze firmly fixed on a world no one else could see. Later, two of my troupe mates told me they’d tried to speak to me, and when I didn’t respond, they’d realized I was writing.
Many of us are heading into the holiday season, knowing we’re going to have to deal with friends and relatives who do not understand what a writing life is like. Grandma Eileen is going to chastise you for not paying attention when she catches you staring into space for the fourth time. Uncle Joe will remind you that writing is so easy anyone can do it, and your brother’s new girlfriend will wonder why you were so lily-livered as to let the editor make changes to your dream. And of course, your sweet mom will gently suggest that you write something like Harry Potter, since that author made lots of money. They can’t help it, you know. Just pour yourself another eggnog and remember, it’s Hollywood’s fault.
***Disclaimer – not everyone in every family asks the kind of questions that make writers want to run out and play in traffic. This post was meant for amusement purposes. Please don’t feel that I’m dissing anyone’s mama.