As I’ve said, my husband and I don’t always get the chance to watch an entire movie in one evening. (A whole 2 hours without interruption?!) So when we do, that’s momentous in itself. When it’s a movie we both end up liking, well, that’s even rarer than a kid going to bed at his actual bedtime and without any drama. Over the weekend, we rented The Words. Not only is it a movie about a writer, but it stars the rather easy-on-the-eyes Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, as well as Dennis Quaid and Jeremy Irons.
The plotline is intriguing – a young writer finds an old manuscript and submits it as his own, only to realize that his literary success comes at a price. But more than that, I appreciate how the film got writers right. The compulsion to write that keeps us up late at night and forces us awake in the early morning. The constant questioning, the envying other writers we deem more talented and successful. The frustration with people who tell us to give it up and get a “real job.” The determination and despair, the hope and rejection, the agonizing “almost” when the lead character finally gets the attention of a literary agent, only to have the agent tell him he loved his book but can’t sell it.
I read somewhere that being a writer is like having homework every day for the rest of your life and I think that’s true. We’re either writing or feeling guilty that we’re NOT writing. There’s a certain kind of imbalance and self-loathing that comes with not producing anything – or anything worthy – for long periods. I get anxious, antsy, irritable when I don’t write for several days.
I’ve also heard the quote, “Writing is easy; you just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.” For some writers, that’s certainly true – the ones who prefer having written to writing. I’m not one of those, but I can still relate to the sentiment. Lots of people think writing is easy. Lots of people think my writing sounds as if it comes easily. We writers know better.
The movie made me think about writing as a creative, artistic pursuit vs. writing as a profession, and the blurring of the line between fiction and nonfiction. It made me wonder how much recognition and accolades matter. It made me ask myself whether it’s enough to publish a book, or does it need to be the right kind of book?
These are questions every writer must answer for himself or herself. Some of these questions I already know the answers to, some I’m still grappling with. But I will tell you this: every time I have written something that I know in my bones is good — even if it’s different from anything else I’ve ever written and even if I get rejection after rejection — that is a piece that somehow finds its way to being published. That is a piece that resonates with readers. Every time.
In all the years I have been writing, this has happened enough times that I no longer question it. It no longer feels magical, it feels inevitable. That is the closest thing to certainty I’ve had in this crazy profession or calling or whatever you want to call it. And I guess that’s what keeps me going. So today, and tomorrow, and hopefully the next day after that, I will sit down at the computer and I will write.
BONUS MOVIE RECC O’ THE DAY: My mom reminded me of another good movie about an ethically challenged writer that I saw a few years ago: Shattered Glass, based on a real-life young journalist’s fall from grace.