When those who don’t write think about those of us who do, many stereotypes may come to mind. They might view us as “hermits” who never leave their homes and sit in front of a typewriter (or today a computer) jamming away at the keys and cranking out words. They might think that we’re drug addicts and drink alcohol like a fish drinks water. They might think that we’re lonely, depressed, miserable souls who hate the world and live in our own. They might think that we are rude and that we are sex addicts. We as writers, know that this is far from the truth as many of us are still trying to make it; we have day jobs, we have families to take care of and we go to college. These stereotypes are as old as the written word itself as the issues of Hemmingway and others always seem to come to mind, and TV and Hollywood as of late have embraced the stereotype of the writer and used it as the basis of its plots. I will provide a couple of examples.
The FXX show You’re the Worst depicts the life of British-born writer Jimmy Shive-Overly, living in Los Angeles who wrote one semi-successful book titled, “Congratulations, You’re Dead” and hasn’t written much since, aside from pieces for various magazines at the request of his agent who is simply trying to ensure that Jimmy has an income. Jimmy drinks constantly, sleeps around, and is downright rude, he excuses his behavior by claiming that he “tells it as it is” and has a phobia of committing to relationships after his prior engagement was called off. His fear of commitment does change however when he meets Gretchen, a PR rep for a local rap group who is almost the mirror image of him with her own alcohol and drug problems and anxiety and depression issues. Together, they make each other happy in a miserable sort of way and keep their relationship going, based on the fact that they both know that they can bail out at any time. The show will be entering its fourth season later this year.
Californication aired on the Showtime network from 2007-2014 and revolved around the life of novelist Hank Moody, played by David Duchovny. After writing four successful novels, Moody is plagued by alcoholism and writer’s block. For several years Moody hasn’t written a word aside from blogs, especially one that is owned by the fiancé of his former partner, Karen. Moody also sleeps around, in some cases, with a different woman in every episode. This is do-in-part to his lack of the ability to say “no”. These and many other things, he blames for his inability to produce new material. Despite his flaws, he is a good father to his teenage daughter Becca and is still a reliable partner for Karen who has some of her own issues. Moody also holds onto the hope that one day, he and Karen will get back together.
The 2000 film, Finding Forrester starring Sean Connery, focuses on the reclusive stereotype of the writer. Connery plays William Forrester who wrote one successful novel and retires into seclusion. Living in a Bronx apartment, Forrester spends his days watching the neighborhood teenagers play basketball on the court below. When the teens take notice, they dare Jamal Wallace, sixteen-years-old to sneak into the apartment and steal something. When Jamal takes up the bet, he is surprised by Forrester and leaves his backpack behind. The next day, Forrester drops Jamal’s backpack out of the window. When Jamal retrieves it, he finds that Forrester wrote notes in his notebooks. Jamal returns and asks to read more of Forrester’s work and asks for advice on his own writing. After some hesitation and refusal, Forrester eventually agrees and the two form a relationship where Forrester helps Jamal improve his writing abilities. Eventually, Forrester does leave his home, walking into an empty Yankee Stadium with Jamal. There’s much more to the plot, but since I am focusing only on the stereotype of the writer in the story, you will have to read the plot or watch the movie for yourself.
These are just a few examples of how stereotypes of writers are ingrained into the minds of the general public, in the minds of those who themselves, are not writers. When Hollywood and TV focus on only these aspects of what a writer is and fail to look at the reality that the majority of writers are actually normally functioning people, with no addictions, healthy families, and relationships; who work days jobs because we haven’t sold the number of books that Stephen King has, people, will always have the wrong impression of what and how we truly are.
My advice for those who think all writers are rude, seclusive, drug and sex addicts, is to get to know a writer. It’s really the same as learning to understand a person of a different ethnic or religious background, you can’t judge a book by its cover (pun intended) just the same as you can’t judge a person by their appearance or by what you’ve heard about the group from which they come, the same goes for writers. Get to know us and realize that the negative viewpoints that have been placed on us pretty much since the written word was invented, are false, they are not always true and remember we in our own right are artists. Imagine how boring the world would be without music, without literature, without creative minds to entertain you with words, whether it is on the pages of a book or on the screen. Stereotypes do hurt, they don’t so much bother me, but when the view of my profession is always negative, it does become slightly bothersome.
I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t watch the shows and the movie I referenced above. I have watched them all and they are very good. They are worthy of your time, just remember that the images of the writers depicted in them are not always true.
-Brett T. Mazzoni
Photo retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/writers-mind