05 February 2010

On the Failed-Writer and the Troubled-Writer

Last night I watched a film about a writer who was lost, wandering down the California coast in search of himself. The film also featured a failed writer who chose accounting and a stable, long-term relationship with a man who had an autistic child. The relationship was passionless, but the failed writer loved the child very much.

Should we examine the inevitable plotline where the “troubled-writer” arrives on the scene and then watch the sexual tension build? Thirty-six minutes into the film, my partner said, “It is too soon for them to have sex, the film has an hour left.” At forty-one minutes into the film, failed-writer and troubled-writer were naked and writhing on the living room floor.

Let’s look past the stock characters and shout-in-your-face themes to examine how the writing life is portrayed. The movie presented two options. You can be a troubled creative type who takes odd jobs, lives and nomadic lifestyle and really write. Or you can choose a stable, well-adjusted life and lose your passion and never write again. To be fair, there were some subtle variations, but time and time again Hollywood presents us with the same stereotype. You can write and fall apart or you can live well and not write at all.

(The movie never got around to explaining how troubled-writer could afford to travel the country and stay at bed and breakfasts while still being a starving artist/student. I will examine the myth of the wealthy writer at another time.)

Are these choices accurate? In my own life and among my friends, I find that it usually takes a mix of the two to be successful. The troubled-writer types whose lives are full of drama and chaos often lack the discipline to revise their work or send their work out. A life of chaos, regardless of artistic genius will not produce discipline.

Conversely, people who are struggling to pay the bills, raise a family or finish a degree can easily forget to set aside time to write. It happens. I did this while applying for grad schools. I was writing essays, artistic statements and resumes, but not creating new poems.

Most writers I know who are getting published are a combination of the failed-writer and the troubled-writer. They are disciplined enough to set aside time to write, revise and submit their work. They manage to keep food on the table, but are still stormy and creative people.

What kind of writer are you?

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