But I thought it’d be like in the movies!

In a recent article Inspired by the release of a new biopic on Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, Evan Maloney of The Guardian looked at the ways that movies depict the lives of writers. These movies traffic in a certain ideal of the writer as a lusty soul with a thirst for strong drink, scrawling his or her revelations while dancing on the ever-thinning boundary between genius and madness.

Those of you who write know how far removed this sort of drama is from the hard, lonely work that is the real writer’s lot. This is a craft that requires sacrifice: hours spent hunched over notepads or keyboards, often at odd hours between the demands of work and family is the would-be writer’s toll.

Admittedly, the writer’s work requires a little glamour to hold the attention of the movie-going public, but to what degree do these sorts of popular depictions create and shape the expectations others hold of writers and their work? Further, do writers themselves feel some sort of pressure to live up to what they think a “successful” writer is supposed to be like?

How much of your own life and writing work is or was influenced or shaped by popular culture’s idea of successful authorhood? Has this changed over your career? What about the way other people perceive you? Are there things that you could change for the better? Would you?

n653213921_1671825_1056996Matt Staggs is a literary publicist and the proprietor of Deep Eight LLC, a boutique publicity agency utilizing the best publicity practices from the worlds of traditional media and evolving social technologies. He has worked in the fields of public relations and journalism for almost a decade. In addition to his work as a publicist, Matt is a book reviewer and writer whose work appears in both print and web publications.

4 thoughts on “But I thought it’d be like in the movies!

  1. Actually, the films get it right. Strong drink did indeed catalyze the inspiration behind my new book.

    (Wait, is Kool-Aid with extra sugar considered a "strong drink"?)

  2. I don't think I was influenced in a positive way about the life of authors, but then, the movies I gravitate toward often have a bleak element of hopelessness about them. The Shining, Barfly, Barton Fink (greatest ode to writers' block EVER); all would never encourage me to experience the Life of the Mind.

    But some people regard me differently, as if somehow I have achieved something beyond them. Although most people would profess to wanting to write a novel, getting one published is a badge of honour. Plus, it's a great ice-breaker at parties.

  3. I remember that at some point, about the age of 14, I learned from ma and pop culture that poetry was meant to be special and elevated and "poetic."

    Before that,I had written a simple poem that won a local contest, got published, made adults go "Ah." But once the epiphany struck, I spent the high school years making it as obscure as possible, which resulted in a lot pretentious bombast that now makes kindling. Took me years to unlearn that one.

  4. 1989 gave us Skin Deep – John Ritter as an booze soaked novelist practically besieged by hot, sexy women. Twenty years later, my life still has yet to rise to the level of Three's Company.

    I pretty quickly figured out that writing is not the ideal career, and that is probably why it took so long to go from wanting to be a writer to doing the work it takes to be a writer. I really wanted to find something more dependable.

    So the movies didn't influence my decisions. If anything, it was that thrill of having otherwise fleeting fantasies locked down in words that kept bringing me back. Writing doesn't pay squat but it does make living seem more worthwhile.

    If anything, what I really don't like is how the movies have influenced the world of non-writers. That is what chafes, especially when dealing with friends who don't quite understand what you do and assume that you're either partying all the time or going insane with agony and grief.

    I mean I am – but maybe just not alll the time or both at the same time.


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