Writing Lessons I Got From a Movie
Looking beyond the present as a writer
“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can — buy me or not — but this is who I am as a writer.” ~ David Morrell
Out of boredom, I googled ‘movies every writer should watch’ in June and downloaded a few. ‘Poetic Justice’, ‘Midnight in Paris’ and ‘Adult World’. I related most to ’Adult World’. This was because the story hit close to home.
It was about a college graduate, Amy (played by Emma Roberts) who was convinced she was destined to be a great poet and spent most of her funds sending manuscript submissions, purchasing magazines and burning gas to attend events with her hanging-on-a- strand car.
Of course, she was broke and still lived with her parents who were slowly getting tired of footing her bill outside writing. They needed her to grow up and stop living in the fantasy that writing from a laptop in her crib-sized room in her parents’ house is an actual job.
Typically, the inability of anyone to grasp the enormity of the great work you do as a writer is an initial sign of the greatness awaiting you.
‘When I started writing, nobody believed in me. But here I am, unable to hold together my multitude of awards and recognition.’
So, often, this assumed lack of faith doesn’t exactly throw us into despair. All we need to do is watch several YouTube videos to get our mojo back.
This movie was quite different and more realistic, which is why I love it most.
You would expect it to end with her receiving a major acceptance and, buying a new car with multiple awards weighing the tire down.
Well, no! she did get an acceptance but not exactly major, she was kicked out after her car got stolen and her parents found out she had cancelled the car’s theft insurance to afford submission fees. She got a job in a sex shop named “Adult world” where she falls in love with her manager, Alex who pushed her to submit to one of the magazines sold where she got the acceptance earlier spoken of.
One very enthralling part of this movie was when she stalked one of her favourite poets, Rat Billings who lived in town until she forced her way into being an unofficial cleaner after multiple rejections for the position of a protégée. (I still wonder why he didn’t get a restraining order)
She stole pieces of his work home, sneaked up on him and even got drunk one time and attempted seduction.
All these while she constantly pleaded with him to consider reading one of her works and even hopefully get a publication in any of his anthologies.
He did publish her work, in his ‘Shit Poems: An Anthology of Bad Verse’ anthology and gifted her a copy on her birthday.
Besides the beauty in the story development in this movie I had a lot of lessons I believe every writer needs, all summarized to four.
1. Experience is the fuel for creativity
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
In the scene where she challenged the curator of her first-but-not-first publication on why he decided to destroy her, from tightly closed windows and doors and in response to her loud cry for an explanation, he expressed his opinion on the reason for her not-so-good work; she had no stories to tell.
She didn’t live life enough to write what could evoke any form of emotion, which is the reason any reader would go past the first line.
This never left me.
In the past, I have erred greatly by attempting to separate who I am and what I wrote. If we look closely, every sentence in our writing is an extension of the conversations in our heads. These conversations, in turn, are results of observations, interactions and experiences embedded in our everyday life.
Ultimately, the content of your life spills over in your writing. We are tempted to think our muse should fall from the sky, through the roof as we intensely stare at a blank screen. Therefore we miss out on the beauty of letting our unique experiences move our fingers, telling stories known to us in a manner we can only tell it.
2. You have to make peace with rejections
‘If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.’ ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs
One of the greatest nightmares of a writer, after utter silence, is receiving a rejection mail. The devastation of rejection after finally overcoming imposter syndrome and sending a submission is one that can crawl up into your bed to steal every shade of courage. Multiple shots of rejections can paralyze any writer. It is understandable if you want to burn all your work after receiving the 10th rejection in a row. I mean, who wouldn’t?
However, one very fascinating thing about the main character was how much faith she had she would be published one day. She was unhappy with how long it took alright but she believed in what she wrote and that kept her going.
This taught me how much faith in myself and every work I put out will be required to build the resilience needed to stay in writing. How making peace with rejections doesn’t mean denial of its crippling effect but choosing to try again when I can finally move.
3. A lot of folks will not give a hoot, it’s not their fault
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver
Writing can get very lonely. From the conception of an idea to brainstorming to research to drawing a structure and putting the words down. It is a lot of work.
Then, when you finally put it out you have seven views in two weeks.
Why aren’t people clicking on the link?
Don’t they care about what I have to write?
We have become people who don’t appreciate literary skills?
We live in this fantasy that we are entitled to getting reads and clicks because of the work we put into the process of creation. Forgetting that no one saw that and even if they did, pity is one of the least reasons anyone reads anything. People will read what they feel they need to read. What they feel is relevant to them and will help them
It is now up to us as writers to give them a reason to desire to consume our creation.
It is more on us not them.
4. Writing is like exercising
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” ~ Richard Bach
It takes time to build consistency in going to the gym or any workout routine you desire and it takes longer time to notice any tangible result and takes courage to keep going even if you don’t notice changes. Same for writing.
Writing consistently is a lot of work but like lifting weights and doing sit-ups, it gets easier over time.
Writing even when it seems no one cares? That my friend, demands courage.
Courage to keep showing up when it seems no one is there to watch or listen.
Courage to face an empty pew and still sing so beautifully.
Courage to keep running!
Courage to believe that one day all the sleepless nights will pay off
Courage to keep living after multiple rejections
Courage to try again even when we fall out!
Like working out, these will finally pay off. No matter how insignificant the changes might seem, the constant exercise of bending words to fit a description builds you and increases your proficiency.
In Sylvia Plath’s words,
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”