Bad Movie, Good Lesson

I tried to post something on Twitter last night and failed miserably. First, I clicked the wrong button and posted a draft instead of deleting it. Then I tried to save face by posting it in two or three hunks, and then I realized that I didn’t have a link to the thing that had inspired the whole mess.

Hi! I’m Andy! I’m a professional writer! Many people trust me for advice on how to make technical things work!

OK. So here’s what I was getting at.

We all get frustrated about our writing projects. Don’t let it set you back.

Frustration is the villain with a thousand faces. I’m bored. Or I lose focus. Or I lose faith in this idea; I think there’s something else I ought to be doing with my time. I remember a workday when the writing felt like I was just reaching down into a wishing well and pulling up fistful after fistful of quarters and today is nothing like that.

I usually get myself out of this sort of mood by reminding myself that the words aren’t supposed to flow easily every time I sit down at the keyboard. This stuff is work. Why is this specific writing problem any different from the time a switch broke on my washing machine, and I couldn’t immediately figure out how to put it back together so that the thingy would stay engaged with the whatchamacallit? A problem can only be solved if you keep working on a solution, as the Tide-fresh Alien Skin Software tee shirt I’m wearing today attests.

Also oh-so-correct: this question that Neil Gaiman recently answered on his Tumblr:

“You being lazy and unmotivated and not writing allows another writer, who does sit down and write, to get published in your place. Magazines and publishers only have so many pages, so many annual publishing spots. You’re letting someone else who wants to do the work get published. Surely that’s a good thing…?”

Similar: that scene from “Tootsie” in which Dustin Hoffman is Teri Garr’s acting coach. She’s struggling with an audition piece. “I’m no good with confrontational characters,” she lamely apologizes. “Well, that’s too bad,” Hoffman snaps back. “Because you’re competing with hundreds of actresses who have no problem with confrontational characters. And that’s why one of them is going to get this part instead of you!”

(The takeaway from the scene and the Tumblr: it’s hard for everybody. Some people will work through it and some won’t.)

To these motivational tools I now add the tale of the hardworking screenwriter of “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.” Via Patton Oswalt’s “Werewolves and Lollipops” (NSFW language):

Oswalt is absolutely right. George Barry (the filmmaker) can definitely call himself a writer. The English professor who’s had an incomplete novel moldering in his or her desk forever can’t. The novel is bold and original and ambitious. The professor believes it’ll inspire the peoples of the world to coalesce into a single, higher being. “Death Bed” is schlocky drive-in tripe. George Barry only believed that a sufficiently lurid low-budget horror movie couldn’t fail to make money.

Aha! But George Barry finished his screenplay.

Becoming a writer isn’t like becoming a doctor or a civil engineer, or a luncheonette that serves “the best coffee in town.” You don’t have to go through a seven-year accreditation process. If you want to call yourself a writer, all you need to do is finish writing something.

Oh, and: writing about writing almost doesn’t count as writing. I suppose I should get back to work. Just remember that as a writer, you’re not a passive receptacle for some mysterious Muse. You’re a worker. The good news is that when you’ve finished something, you’ve earned something.

14 thoughts on “Bad Movie, Good Lesson”

  1. I always appreciate your thoughts on writing. The piece you wrote about the non-existence of writer’s block came at just the right time, and today, when I should be editing my book and not putting it off like I have been, this comes along and screams at me, “stop being lazy! This is not how you become a writer!”

    Thanks for the inspiration, Andy!

  2. Liked the post, but a little warning next time on posting YouTube videos with profanity. I have kids in the room and not used to this kind of material coming from you. Thx.

  3. Question: What do you do to get past that which stalls your writing? I remember interviewing an author once who said that he would take on some tedious task. He said that he was really stuck once and the way he got unblocked was by painting his house. That task, he said, gave his mind time to resolve the issue. He also mentioned that he will sometimes work on the middle or end of his book or magazine article first, then make the balance of the work mesh with what he had on paper. He also cautioned about holding on too tight to something you already had on paper just because it is done.

    So Andy, what is your process?

  4. Your advice is always so true now, if I could keep up and follow the advice I’d be doing a great job with my writing.

  5. Awesome, Andy.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants. As a lawyer who is looking to transition to writing/blogging (I know, I’m and idiot!), I needed this today as a reminder of what my true passion is, and that it’s still work.

    Thanks!
    Tech-Shizzle

  6. Great post! I like the washing-machine analogy.

    When I’m stuck I like, I set the timer for a half hour and ‘sprint’ – that is, keep my fingers moving no matter what, even if I’m typing “this sucks this sucks this sucks” for five of those minutes. One or three of those (with tea/chocolate breaks off for good behavior) and I usually am able to break through. :)

  7. I really needed to read this. Thank you for a kick-ass reminder that writing needs a separation of Church and State as much as government.

  8. Perfect…. Just PERFECT!
    As most of the responders, I too have been in the throes of getting an article written for a magazine. I do the same piece every year for them (an update on what’s been going on in a particular niche market) and every year I go through the same procrastination fit until I just have to power through and DO IT! Your article came at the best time possible, and my hat’s off to you, sir.

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