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My Brilliant (Writing) Career

04/21/2010

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!
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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.

____________________________________________________________________
This was originally posted on Sharky’s Machine

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Fleur permalink
    04/24/2010 7:41 am

    Love this post!
    Movies about writing/writers I like a lot:
    Finding Forrester
    The Hours
    84 Charing Cross Road

    Ciao from Holland!

    Fleur

  2. 04/28/2010 1:48 pm

    What I’ve learned about writers from watching movies about writers is that if you’re in a relationship with one, you don’t want to be too interesting or else your life ends up in the window of Barnes and Nobles at 40% off (members price). And heaven help you if you deign to break up with one.

  3. Adrian permalink
    05/02/2010 5:03 pm

    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.

    Miss Angelina, I was THRILLED to read this entry. In our emails we often discuss writing, but I don’t recall ever seeing you discuss it to this extent here. I love the idea of expanding DTPW to encompass writing as well. Nice to see you back.

  4. Mike permalink
    05/02/2010 5:04 pm

    Cousin’s a writer and he’s also a troll and never has money. Yet, always has a pretty girlfriend. Is that a writing trope featured in these movies?

  5. pollo con queso permalink
    05/02/2010 5:05 pm

    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

    I like how you’re trying to convince folks writing is the reason you’re a nosy person.

  6. 05/24/2010 10:07 pm

    If you like movies on writers, you might want to get the BBC adaptation of Strong Poison. 1930s mystery novelist Harriet Vane is accused of murder, in part because she purchased arsenic and several books on arsenic. She claims it was research for her latest novel — the police note it gave her means and opportunity to kill her ex. Lord Peter Wimsey investigates, and the BBC does a wonderful period piece. Netflix has it 🙂

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