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.