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My Brilliant (Writing) Career

April 4, 2010

Judy Davis in "My Brilliant Career"

I am the kind of writer who enjoys watching films about writers/writing. I don’t tend to care if the film subjects are real persons or invented. One thing I have noticed though is very little writing actually happens on film. I completely understand this since watching someone else writing – for the most part – is really freaking boring. Still, so much about creation of craft is done in secret and removed from the public sphere, which therefore makes it fascination (to me). And, heck, I’m nosy. I want to know what other writers do when they’re writing. For example, I have a stack of things hounding me in my home office at the end of the world, thus I’ve fled to the living room where I’m toggling between a short story that has no plot or reason for existence, an episode of American Greed and this here entry.

As a writer, I also fail at being sufficiently reflective. Unless there’s college credit involved I don’t often write about my “process” or craft concerns, which I liken to bowel movements in terms of newsworthiness. I suspect this makes me kind of a boring writer. If I do happen to write about writing there tends to be an undercurrent of embarrassment at being so meta. Like this passage, which makes about just as much sense in context as it does out of context.

I’m just a naturally gifted storyteller, social critic who is mildly misanthropic, totally in love with her first condo (and rarely likes to leave it unless it’s for food, hooker boots, pens or karaoke) who wants a shot. In the meantime if you’re looking for me you’ll find me click clacking away on the keyboard or fondling my pen stash or scribbling furiously in one of my Rhodia notebooks while swishing hot coffee around my seared mouth, letting it drip down the front of my many gray knee length v-neck sweaters.

From an entry entitled “Discovery”.

Okay, so I’m not exactly sure what that passage demonstrates, except maybe to suggest it’s good that I don’t write about my writing much.

When I first started watching Sex and the City what drew me in was the depictions of Carrie actually sitting at her raggedy bell bottom computer banging out captain obvious style ruminations on love, one question at a time. Not only did she actually seem to sit down and write – no manuscripts magically appeared after a three minute montage of room pacing and stutter shots of balled up paper landing in or near a trash bin – but she also knew how to type!

Writers Darius and Nina didn't have twitter so they had to actually hang out in person.

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching movies about writers.

  • Text appears on computer screens at a speed and level of accuracy not in alignment with the keys fingers are show striking. Perhaps if someone filmed me confidently striking the P, Y, J and O key repeatedly – set to a perky power pop ditty – I’d have a column on love fit for a NY gossip rag.
  • The more shabby your clothing, the more sparkling your prose. In Wonder Boys, Grady Tripp spent a lot of time in a shabby pink woman’s housecoat and his prose was thought to be dazzling. I own a few items in similar states of shabbiness, yet have not observed any noticeable increased brilliance.
  • Writers are really only at their best when they are staggering around like Dean Martin reeking of MadDog 20/20. As a writer I am certainly aware of the frustrations that come from uncooperative prose, disappointing narratives and a woeful lack of character development. That said, it never makes me want to drink! You know what makes me want to hit the Ironweeds? Not being a writer and therefore not having frustrations that come from uncooperative prose, disappointing narratives and a woeful lack of character development.

    Fingers on the home keys, Carrie!

  • Writers are cheap or broke and never pay for anyone’s coffee. Okay, I pay for other people’s coffee a lot. And I’m not generally one to rattle my poor cup+ in anyone’s face unless they gave birth to me.
  • Writers are often self absorbed yet have arch enemies. I don’t understand this. If you’re at the level of self absorption often attributed to writers when would you have time – in between talking about your process to people trapped next to you on cross country flights and blaming your failures as a human on your failure to be properly recognized – to cultivate the kind of petty relationships that often result in arch rivalries. I mean you’d have to actually read work other than your own and that’s just not going to happen!
  • Writers cultivate temporary relationships with others for research purposes and gladly solicit folks they know for material. Whenever I notice some variation on these themes in a film I am amused. Most people needn’t worry about some unscrupulous writer stealing their life’s A material; most people just aren’t that fucking interesting. To paraphrase something I once read in a novel by Marti Leimbach: “Let me get this straight, you think I’d be interested in writing about people I don’t know, doing things I don’t really think are that interesting at a party I didn’t attend? Sure!” Or something like that.
  • Writers write to exact revenge. No, ghost writers for celebrities seek revenge through prose. Writers just write and the revenge, well that’s just icing on the cake and not the cake itself.

I realize my tagline is “Trust me, I’ve done the legwork.” but this time you’ll have to do your own legwork as far as finding links for the films/things I’ve mentioned here. This was supposed to be like 300 words and I was supposed to be in bed hours ago!
__________________________________________
FILMOGRAPHY

  1. The Shining
  2. Sex and the City
  3. Wonder Boys
  4. Love Jones
  5. My Brilliant Career
  6. Shadowlands
  7. Deconstructing Harry
  8. Velvet Goldmine
  9. The Big Chill

+ pejorative. Usually a plastic Taco Bell cup shaken by upper middle class goth/punk kids who find it great fun to sit downtown (in various cities) playing “poor” and talking about music and demanding beer money from squares who attempt to step over their outstretched limbs, while avoiding eye contact.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. msjacks permalink
    April 4, 2010 1:54 am

    “If I do happen to write about writing there tends to be an undercurrent of embarrassment at being so meta.” So true.

    And OMG, watching Carrie write is what drew me into SATC too! I mean really, the whole show is about writing when it comes down to it. I wish I heard more about that.

  2. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 4, 2010 2:20 am

    I love watching movies about writers too, it’s like masturbating.

  3. April 4, 2010 2:45 am

    @Robin – I think as we get closer to the release of the sequel, I’ll write more and more about Sex and the City. Probably a big honking post similar to what I did to “St. Elsewhere” (the TV show).

    @Raybear – HA! I could watch Wonder Boys and the Margo bits of Royal Tanenbaums forever.

  4. April 4, 2010 5:10 am

    This kind of writing is what makes Arnold race out the door in excitement. And I can’t wait to watch “Deathtrap” with you!

  5. April 4, 2010 5:11 am

    LOL @ Arnold! Where is he off to?

  6. p0plife permalink
    April 4, 2010 11:19 am

    Awesome. I should do a similar post about painters. We’re always covered in paint, cigarette dangling from lip,

    I’ll admit, my favorite part of Basquiat is where he is painting a HUGE canvas on the floor of his studio. It’s a montage really, set to some Miles Davis and culminating in “White Lines”. Raybear is so right, it’s totally masturbation. By the time that montage hits “White Lines” I’m all hot and bothered.

    And I could probably write an entire bit about Scorsese playing Van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Oh man, that fake red beard.

  7. April 4, 2010 11:24 am

    And I could probably write an entire bit about Scorsese playing Van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Oh man, that fake red beard.

    Uncle Marty!!!!

  8. hsofia permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:01 pm

    This writing post kept you up past your bedtime, haha. Love when that happens. I had forgotten how Carrie used to actually write in SatC, and I liked those scenes, too. Although her lack of desk clutter amazed/confused me. My list of writer films includes Little Women (the one with Winona Ryder), Adaptation, Stranger than Fiction, and Henry Fool. I also liked Wonder Boys (such a good one!), and Deconstructing Harry was the first or second Woody Allen movie I ever saw, and put me on to his work. My mental cliche of the writer is of them scribbling away furiously in an upstairs room – no doubt the result of many LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott novels in my formative years.

  9. evmaroon permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:25 pm

    wasn’t there a movie about jane austen, focusing on her early and later life? I remember liking that one. obviously it really stuck with me.

  10. April 4, 2010 2:33 pm

    Although her lack of desk clutter amazed/confused me.

    I know, right! I try really hard to maintain a desk as tidy as Carrie’s but I don’t always succeed.

    @EvMaroon – I was tempted to place “Sylvia” on the list but decided, under the circumstances, it doesn’t really sell the message.

  11. donewithpretty permalink
    April 4, 2010 11:02 pm

    When I first started watching Sex and the City what drew me in was the depictions of Carrie actually sitting at her raggedy bell bottom computer banging out captain obvious style ruminations on love, one question at a time.

    These moments kill me! They feed into the crazy idea in my head that *other* writers are somehow getting praise/cash/renown for basically writing obvious shit. Between those writers (“Some men like toilet seats up, some women fall in!”) and the really amazing, way out of my league writers (the ones so good, I can’t even find reasons to scorn them), it’s a wonder I ever type anything but blog comments.

    In a movie I didn’t otherwise love, Becoming Jane Austen, the writing scenes are fabulous. Jane actually sits, thinks, rewrites, and sends letters that look like they were attacked with the exacto knife. If she had a laptop, I wonder whether she’d ever feel sufficiently “revised” for publication.

  12. April 5, 2010 10:20 pm

    These moments kill me! They feed into the crazy idea in my head that *other* writers are somehow getting praise/cash/renown for basically writing obvious shit. Between those writers (“Some men like toilet seats up, some women fall in!”) and the really amazing, way out of my league writers (the ones so good, I can’t even find reasons to scorn them), it’s a wonder I ever type anything but blog comments.

    I have a different reaction. I feel invigorated because it means I can get there too. Most writers don’t seem to get that it’s not the most talented who end up being the most successful – though that happens too – it’s the ones who can commit to the page fully and meet their deadlines with NO excuses. Surprisingly I have come across precious few talented writers who can make themselves write on demand regardless of what the muse is doing (or not doing) , meet their deadlines and just do the work it takes to get where they are going. I generally am not inclined to snark on those who do.

  13. donewithpretty permalink
    April 5, 2010 10:40 pm

    Most writers don’t seem to get that it’s not the most talented who end up being the most successful – though that happens too – it’s the ones who can commit to the page fully and meet their deadlines with NO excuses.

    Oh, I’ve lived this. Kids who I used to wallop in writing competitions went to work as journalists, book researchers, etc., and can now write circles around me. Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? I love his description of writing crap for years until cohesive stories started coming out.

  14. hsofia permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:00 am

    So so true about diligence, consistency, reliability as a writer (or deliverer of written goods) being keys to success. Heinlein’s rules and all that. Talent is great and all, but probably more common than the ability to put one’s nose to the grindstone.

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