Last night, I re-watched a movie called The Secret Window (if you’re a fan of mystery/thriller films, or just like to stare at Johnny Depp’s face, this one’s for you!) While I enjoyed the movie, there was something about it that set my teeth on edge – why do writers always seem to be portrayed a certain way in films, books, or even general conversation? Here’s how it goes:
THE WRITER (A stereotype)
The writer is a lazy creature, one that enjoys staying up until it’s too tired to keep it’s eyes open and wakes up late the next morning – no alarms necessary. Writers spend most of their time at home, so you’ll often find them wearing pyjamas at all times of day (and night, when it’s actually suitable). Going to their house is probably the only way to reach them, since writers are extremely anti-social, as they cannot be disturbed while writing (which is, let’s face it, all the time). Since they aren’t really required to leave home for work, their hair is usually unwashed and messy and if you ask them when they last had a bath, they probably won’t remember. Their houses are usually even messier than their hairstyles and it’s not uncommon to find pieces of paper covering every surface, from the floor, to the walls, to the ceiling. Amongst the papers and pens (most of which have run out), you are also likely to find half-eaten packets of chocolate, biscuits, crisps and any other form of junk food known to man. Cars run on petrol; writers run on processed food . In fact, a writer will select their snacks based on the number of ingredients they can’t pronounce (the more, the merrier). To wash down this not-so-nutritious diet, writers turn to their best friend in the universe; Caffeine. Whether it be in the form of coffee, diet Coke, or Red Bull, the writer needs Caffeine more than anything else in the world (yes, the capital C is intentional – the writer considers Caffeine his/her best friend, and would even have it crowned ‘Sir’ if he/she had it their way.) When the writer finally decides to emerge from the dark cave they call home, the next place of choice is the cafe, where the writer will take their writing materials to ‘write.’ (In other words, celebrate their arrival to the place of Caffeine’s inception, drown their sorrows in even more Caffeine, listen to other peoples’ conversations, try to write it into their story and take advantage of the free wi-fi to Google things like ‘how to write a crime novel,’ ‘how to write a screenplay,’ or, quite simply, ‘how to write.’)
The Writer Stereotype is one that I have come across multiple times and while all writers have a process and writing habits, (YES, it’s true that we love our Caffeine), it’s not fair to make the assumption that all writers are lazy people who do nothing but eat, sleep and write, forgetting to shower in the process.
I recently went to a screenwriting lecture given by Emma Thompson at the British Film Institute in London and she reenacted her own writing process for the audience. Pacing across the stage, sitting down to write, getting distracted by something, doing some yoga to get back into the ‘zone,’ vacuuming the floor, reading her work aloud and sighing in despair throughout the whole thing, I could definitely see a lot of my own process in that performance. And while it may be true that certain elements of the stereotype are actually valid, rather than pinning us as lazy daydreamers, non-writers should come to terms with the fact that writers are simply curious – curious about life, about people and about everything there is to be curious about. Much like children, being curious is what keeps writers’ minds fresh and able to come up with stories beyond imagination.
You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy a good book or movie. But it was a writer (or writers) who made those books and movies come to life, so maybe it’s time the stereotype changed. We are not lazy – we are curious. We are not anti-social – we are creative. We are addicted to coffee and we do shower (I can only speak for myself, of course, but let’s hope that last one is true for us all).