Writing has to be one of the most misunderstood professions. Some readers seem to think a book gets written by magic, involving no time or effort. But a book which is easy to read hasn’t necessarily been easy to write. Getting published is a struggle, and even that is not the end of the story. Most authors are barely scraping a living…. it is not a life to choose if you want to be rich.
Another misconception is that the hardest part of writing is coming up with ideas. How many people have told me that they have ‘lots of ideas for books’ so they really could/should/will write a book any day now, they just haven’t bothered yet?
Where, oh where, do all these misconceptions come from? Maybe Hollywood doesn’t help? Let’s have a look at some of the myths pedalled in films about writers.
- Seven Psychopaths is about a writer who is struggling to finish his screenplay, and so his friend invites real psychopaths to come and share their stories. It’s a brilliantly funny film – not surprising when it stars Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. But seriously, Hollywood, when a writer is struggling, it’s not the coming up with ideas that’s the problem. It’s time, solitude, financial support..
2. I mean look at Colin Firth’s writer character in Love Actually. He has a pad in London and a pretty nice place in France – with its own pond, for goodness sake. Any idea how much that would cost? And then he pays for a daily cleaner despite being such a novice that he doesn’t even back anything up. But as we all know, it’s a seriously brilliant film so I have to include it. And it’s not the worst offender in ‘writer as millionaire,’ in Something’s Gotta Give, Diane Keaton is a playwright who owns a WEEKEND RETREAT in THE HAMPTONS. She doesn’t seem to need to spend much time writing to maintain this lavish lifestyle, and relationship traumas don’t seem to impact on her ability to write. I mean, come on! I know Shakespeare was a major landowner in Stratford, but when he based himself in London he made do with a modest bedsit. The film’s sexual politics are a bit annoying too, but I mean if you pair Jack Nicholson with Diane Keeton, what can you expect?
3. Shakespeare, Shakespeare… the greatest writer in the history of the English Language, and yet surprisingly few films made about him. There is the wonderful BBC2 sitcom Upstart Crow of course, but as far as feature films go, I have to admit to adoring Shakespeare in Love. There is no historical evidence for the romance, and Joseph Fiennes doesn’t seem to spend too much time writing, but it’s a wonderful story nevertheless.
4. Back to Jack Nicholson for a moment… what about The Shining? So many of Stephen King’s protagonists are writers, and could there anything scarier than a man with writers’ block? Not according to Stanley Kubrick. Yet Stephen King didn’t like Kubrick’s portrayal of his protagonist as a psychopath; the book focuses far more on the psychic child. Yet it is an iconic horror film about a writer, so it has to be on the list.
5. Stephen King’s Misery is, however, THE best film about writing. Sometimes the idea of someone locking me into a snow-bound cabin and taking care of my every need in order to force me to write doesn’t sound so unappealing. Not so sure about the hammer though…. At least it isn’t the writer who’s the psychopath in this tense thriller.
6. Still in thriller mode, check out Secret Window starring Johnny Depp, yet another film based on a Stephen King story with the protagonist retreating to a cabin with writers’ block; this time the plot involves the writer being accused of plagiarism… and from then it gets creepier and creepier.
7. Yes, Hollywood does love writers’ block. Barton Fink is probably the best of them. This is a completely surreal, weird, dark comedy thriller from the Coen brothers. Watch it.. and watch it again.
8. I also have to commend Kill Your Darlings. This is a biographical drama about the Beat Generation, and has some stunning performances.
9. But enough with the horror films and the unrealistic portrayals of writers. In Stranger Than Fiction Emma Thomson is always at her desk with that slightly harassed, not really listening to you expression that any writer will recognise. And her presence makes up for the annoyingness of Will Ferrell (does anyone actually like watching movies with Will Ferrell?) And I’m right there with Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) in Romancing the Stone, celebrating finishing her novel alone with her cat in a flat devoid of food or clean clothes. Right after she’s had a terrific adventure, kicked some ass, and plumbed her personal experiences to write a best seller. Go girl! Her co-star Michael Douglas is later tormented by ‘secondbookitis’ in Wonder Boys, terrified of drawing a line under an increasingly wordy manuscript.
10. My favourite film of all time, In My Father’s Den, is tangentially about writing. It stars Matthew MacFadyen, the most delicious of actors, who returns home to New Zealand for his father’s funeral to become embroiled in the case of a missing teenage girl. This girl has written an award winning short story, which is read out loud throughout the film (hence my sneaking it into this list). And staying with things antipodean, My Brilliant Career is based on a 1901 Australian novel and is a coming of age story about Sybylla who is wooed by various suitors but in the end rejects them all in order to write. The book was written by Miles Franklin when she herself was still a teenager. Show it to any teenager who thinks they can be famous just for existing, without making some difficult life choices