Writers For Real


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.


22 comments to Writers For Real

  • I loved “Limitless” for a number of reasons, including that one. 🙂

    I do wish everybody in the whole world would read this post,though, because it continually surprises me how many people assume writers live like in the movies. I’ve really shocked some people by explaining the realities of a writer’s life.

  • Catie, it’s almost a game for us, looking for all the ways Hollywood gets things wrong. If we wrote novels the way screenwriters write scripts, we’d never get out of rewrites. -laughs-

  • Reminds me of Buffy (as many things do) wistfully speculating that instead of actually studying for her exam they substitute a “Buffy studying” montage: Buffy reading, Buffy falling asleep on a book… That’s the way to do it.

  • Yes, I will take my wood-paneled townhouse with built-in library now. Also, the grad student.

  • Yeah, I could totally use a cashmere sweater this week. It’s a little chilly in the mornings as I drag my butt out the door to my DAY JOB, that other thing no writer in a movie ever has to deal with :).

  • Ken

    Not too big on cashmere (unless it’s spelled with a “K” and Led Zeppelin is somehow involved :)), but I’ll take the fireplace.

    I’ll find myself watching “Castle” and I’ll ask myself: “When does this guy have the time to write?”

  • Now I want to see Limitless even more.

    I agree with John – day jobs are *never* portrayed. Or if they are, it’s the crappy job that the burgeoning authour can escape when his book sells that kajillion copies at the end of the movie, three weeks after the publisher accepted the manuscript.

    But cashmere sweaters *totally* don’t go with my geeky T-shirt image. 😉

  • sagablessed

    I would love to be that guy in the sweater. But the ‘laundry thing’ and day job are so much truer to life.

  • Hey, my life is exactly like a movie writer’s life.

    All work and no play makes Scott a dull boy. All work and no play makes Scott a dull boy.

  • The image I love comes from a car commercial that aired several years ago. It listed all the things that “you were going to do with your life” or something of the sort, implying that while your life was a pale shadow of what you had hoped it would be, you could at least buy this expensive sports car and make the regrets all go away. But one of the regrets was “You were going to write the great American novel…” and it showed a guy in jeans and what had to be a cashmere sweater sitting on a dock overlooking a placid lake, a notebook computer on his lap, and a wistful expression in his eyes. Every time I saw it I didn’t know whether to laugh or smash my TV with a baseball bat.

  • mudepoz

    Oh wow, and here I thought it was more like ‘The Shining'(Heh, Scott, just saw your comment) or The Blackadder. How about Snoopy? No one knows you’re a dog on the internet… Never mind.

  • rebnatan

    …and when you say you’re busy, people get mad, because obviously, staring into space isn’t ‘busy.’

  • David, yes! As if any of us would risk sitting that close to water with our laptops…

  • Bwhahahhahaa! That was great and right on time. I’m sure all the rest of you out there are reading this in a hip coffee shop, wearing Buddy Holly glass, or, in David’s case, composing on the dock of your lake house. I am sitting here in a sweatshirt with a towel around my head, wishing I could have a grading montage. You know – Shot of Sarah opening a pack of blue pens, her face a mix of stern resolve and maternal compassion. Rotating shot of infinite stack of blue books and paper. Shot of Sarah hunched over non-diminishing pile. Shot of Sarah writing formative comments. Shot of Sarah clutching her head. Shot of Sarah bent over non-diminishing pile. Shot of Sarah weeping quietly into whiskey bottle. Pile is still not diminished. Shot of Sarah, exhausted but triumphant next to finished stack of papers. Shot of Sarah going out to fabulous Christmas party full of writers and agents. Yeah, something like that.

    And no Misty, my mom has never suggested that I write the next Harry Potter, but with more Christian in it. I don’t know where you come up with these things. 😉

  • And in the sun?! Holy Cow! I would burst into flames. But, I guess the water would be close enough I could jump in and save myself. Then again, if the laptop was destroyed why bother saving myself if the great American novel was destroyed…

  • Hepseba ALHH

    @ Daniel and David: You guys do read PhD comic, yes?

    Yeah, my mom wants me to get published (I’m not sure I COULD shake her faith that what I write is publish*able*) so that we could move closer to home, even though I really like doing research. She said, “Umm, you could do research in your spare time?”

  • Hepseba ALHH

    clarification: Sorry, I should have said “scientific research”. I’m sort of a slacker when it comes to writing research…

  • “Oh,” she said, as she leaned back in her velvet chair and tossed another bon bon into her mouth. “You mean that not all writers live this way? Jasper, take a note for my research girl. ‘Find out why not all writers are millionaires.’ I’m dreadfully curious.”

  • [steps over a puppy, kicks dirty laundry off the chair, sits and drags the 4 year old laptop onto her lap] Yup. Luxury.

    And if weren’t for that ~other~ job, it’d be awful chilly in here!

  • Razziecat

    So that’s what I’m doing wrong! *makes note to buy cashmere sweater–oh, wait, look at the prices of those things!! Can I substitute rayon?*

    At least the family’s not a problem. Both my sisters write, so there are days when all three of us are stumbling around the house with glazed eyes mumbling about aliens, wizards, or whatever.

  • I’m not even sure I know what a cashmere sweater is ^_~ (kidding)

    But I honestly did live in a log cabin out in the middle of the woods for a while. It was totally not all it’s made out to be–always cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Deer on the front porch. My hair smelling like forest all the time. No internet. oh, and the bugs **shiver** Been there, done that. Maybe it would be fine for an occasional writing retreat, but so totally not a place I want to live again.

  • Beatriz

    “Ms. Author, it’s time for your massage. And here’s your coffee. The plane to Paris for the European tour leaves at 1 pm. Your luggage is packed, I’ve arranged for the pet-sitter and made sure that Le Book Store has plenty of copies for you to sign at the autographing session on Friday. We’ll be having dinner tonight at Le Plush Palace and the Prime Minister is thrilled to join us.”

    Ahhh, the life of a minion. Jet-setting and hobnobbing with the best of people.