Of all the professions regularly committed to celluloid, some are more common than others. Journalist, say. Lawyer. Professor at a university. You rarely see films about binmen or sewage workers, yet someone has that job. Novelist is for some reason also a common trope. Since becoming one myself, I can barely sit through a film without shouting ‘It’s not like that! They’d never be able to afford that car! Their editor would never pick them up from the airport!’ and so on, while weeping bitter tears into the popcorn I had to bring from home, and then struggling to see from under the seat I had to sneak into wearing a large coat and standing on my friend’s shoulders (oh, you see where I’m going with this: being a writer doesn’t pay all that well). Having watched a raft of films over Christmas which featured writers in central roles, I began to identify several common myths about the job. Sorry, everyone, it really isn’t like this.
We mope about and never get on with anything
Really, writing is like any other job. You don’t turn in work, you don’t get paid. You don’t publish anything for a while, you no longer have a publisher and your agent most likely drops you. We don’t have the luxury of sitting around obsessing about our talent and failing to finish anything.
We have pools
I’ve noticed this a lot in American films. Does literally everyone there enjoy their own leisure facilities, complete with sun loungers, or do film-makers believe authors have pots of money? I have a pool. A pool of vomit my dog left on the floor. Writers don’t live in gorgeous mansions, we live in small flats with odd smells on the landing.
We’re gorgeous and everyone wants to have sex with us
Hollywood thinks writers look like this:
But really we look like this:
This is by no means to diss George R R Martin, who has given more pleasure to the world than Bradley Cooper ever could, topless or no. But mostly, we’re not so hot.
We use old-fashioned typewriters
This one REALLY irritates me. Have you ever tried to type out 100,000 plus words on a wrist-shattering old typewriter? I’m old enough to remember using one as a child and they were rubbish. You had to keep moving the stupid carriage bit and all the keys would mash together, then one would always stop working and you’d have to ink it in, and they were noisy and they hurt your fingers and you couldn’t grow your nails. We spend hours at our computers. We need GOOD ones. Writing for a living doesn’t make you a Luddite, in fact it’s the opposite.
Our agents and editors are there to nursemaid us and mop our brows
Agents and editors usually have several dozen clients to look after, if not more. Despite what films would have you believe, they do not have time to drive us to the airport, pick up our dry-cleaning, or coax us into writing our next book. Ideally we don’t hate each other, but it’s a business relationship above all else.
People have heard of us
About the only realistic film I’ve seen that deals with this is Young Adult, where the main character goes into a bookshop and insists on signing all the stock of the series tie-in novel she wrote, before being restrained by the security guard. That’s what it’s like. You go into shops and say ‘I wrote that’ and the booksellers get a funny look in their eye. ‘Oh no, why do I get all the crazies?’ That kind of look. You meet people at parties and they ask what you’ve written and they say and they go ‘Oh. Is it….on Amazon?’ We don’t go around incognito and getting recognised on the tube from our author cover photos. Firstly because they’re all wildly over-flattering, and secondly because no one cares.
We have lovely tidy desks
Remember the desk of Emma in One Day? Flowers, jar of sharpened pencils, tidiness?
This is my desk. Note tea, sweets, mess everywhere, unpaid bills. Much more realistic.
We get writer’s block
There’s no such thing as a mythical block to writing. There’s writer’s loss of confidence, writer’s written-myself-into-a-corner, writer’s can’t-get-a-good-idea, and writer’s laziness, but that’s it. Having to pay bills is a powerful motivator to crank out some words.
Everyone in our life worships our talent and leaves us alone to get on with it
In films you get situations like Jack’s wife in The Shining agreeing to spend the winter in an obviously haunted halls-full-of-blood, mental head-fuck of a hotel, so her (unpublished) husband can write a novel. In reality you get moaning about why you’ve been staring at your computer so long and your parents questioning whether it wouldn’t have been better to train as an accountant after all and the assumption that ‘working from home’ means ‘free to entertain guests, make tea for tradespeople, and do the ironing’.
Genius equals bouts of suicidal insanity
Hollywood does love a mad genius (see Shine, Proof, Iris, Sylvia…) but in reality there’s a handful of people whose talent was so great it burned them up before 30 and made them bloody miserable most of the time. For most of us, a spark of talent only succeeds when it’s coupled with sitting down every day for years and getting on with it. Millions of people want to write books. Actually finishing one is a different thing altogether.
Our lives are remotely interesting
I write this as respite from a day in which I’ve – walked the dog, been to the post office, made tea for some gasmen, put the washing on, and done my tax return. I can only conclude screenwriters secretly hope they can one day quit that harsh world and be a novelist, all creative and mad and being lusted after. Whereas novelists dream of being screenwriters, mingling at parties with Ryan Gosling and being paid actual money.
Films which proved this theory: Ruby Sparks, Eat Pray Love, Limitless, Romancing the Stone, Young Adult, One Day, Misery, The Shining, etc etc