Monday, 9 February 2015

Ranting about writers in films

Apologies to those of you at Saturday’s Birmingham Chapter meeting – you’ve already heard this. However, I can’t hold this in any longer. I want to share something on my blog that’s bothered me ever since I started writing seriously. For years I’ve wondered if I was the only person who felt this way, but the reaction from my friends on Saturday assured me that I’m not alone in this*.

The thing that’s bothered me is this—the way writers are depicted in films/tv/books.
It always goes something like this. One day, the hero or heroine (let’s call it heroine for the sake of argument) suddenly makes an announcement. ‘This would make a great story,’ she says. ‘I’m going to write a book about it.’

Here comes the first bit that annoys me. She gets out a typewriter. I mean, seriously? Who writes with a typewriter these days? And it’s not even an electric typewriter. It’s one of those ancient things that you have to press a lever to start a new line and shatters fingernails at twenty paces. Now, I’m not in the first flush of youth, but I’ve always used a computer to do my writing. And the first things I wrote were on computers that needed two floppy disks (remember those?) to boot up, back in the days when we thought 128kb was impressive.

Who would do this?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, our heroine doesn’t sit at a desk, on an ergonomically designed chair. Oh, no. She does something endearingly kooky like sit on the floor or perch cross-legged on a window seat. Despite the fact that her back must be killing her, she’s lost all feeling in her legs and she’s got no fingernails left, she then progresses to the part that winds me up even more than the whole typewriter thing. 

She starts typing, and we hear what she’s writing in voiceover. ‘Chapter One,’ she says. ‘If only I had known, that day on the beach, that nothing would ever be the same again…’ Only something much more deep and meaningful than that, but that was the best I could do off the top of my head. And she doesn’t stop there. The words pour out of her. She continues to write for hours, days, with no pauses or hesitation. Not even any Tippex. We see her feverishly ripping page after page of completed work from the typewriter and adding it to the growing stack of papers beside her.

How does she do it? Why can’t I write thousands of publisher-ready words at the drop of a hat? In my head my story might be the greatest told since Shakespeare hung up his quill, but when I write it down, all that comes out is something that reads like Janet and John Book 2. But I try not to let it get me down, because I know that if I really sweat over it, edit, edit and edit again, I might eventually end up with something I can bear allowing a crit partner to read. But does this new writer do any editing? Of course not. All the words came out perfectly. So she ties up the manuscript with a cute red ribbon and sends it off to a publisher. Who rings up after a tense 3-day wait, offering a huge advance that will end the heroine’s financial problems for ever.

Now you might be reading this, thinking, ‘Yes, but all occupations are misrepresented in films and on tv. Just how many maverick detectives are there really? And does anyone actually know a real hospital doctor who can spend all day at the bedside of just one patient?’ And you’d be right—I’m a teacher and I can’t bear to watch school dramas on tv. But this is where we come to the thing that really makes me froth at the mouth.

Because all of these scenarios, where we see how easy it is to write a book and get published, were written by writers. Why? Why would they want to make their own profession look laughably easy?
I’ve come to this conclusion: it’s a conspiracy. The writers who write those scenes want people to think it is that easy. Because then when new writers try to write a book and get stuck when they can’t think of a show-stopping opening line, they’ll give up, thinking they’re not writers after all, thus leaving more space on the publishers’ books for those who know better.

What do you think? Do you get as wound up as me about it? Or are you part of the conspiracy? And if you really do find it that easy to write then please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!

*However, their reaction when I came out and admitted that actually, I couldn’t stand wine, was less than compassionate.


  1. I'm not sure I get wound up about, Tora, but you're right - it's a very unrealistic view of the writer's life. However, i don't think a film of someone staring at a blank screen or someone playing games on the computer (what do you mean, you never do???) - ie thinking time!! - would make for a gripping film!I always like Jack Nicholson's protrayal in the Shining. But, on the other hand, he WAS going slowly mad!

    1. I don't know what you're talking about, Jan - play games? Me? LOL

      You're right, of course, that showing the real process would make for the most boring viewing ever, but I just wish that the people who write these scenes would at least try to make it look a bit more difficult!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. My husband (who's a writer!) hates watching films with me as I insist on point out inconsistencies, glad it's not just me :)

    1. Hi, Josie, and welcome!

      Don't worry - you're not alone. Inconsistencies can ruin a film for me.