How to Become a Successful Writer – Hollywood Style

The Shining Dull Boy

VHS Revival turns to the movies for literary inspiration.


I decided I wanted to be a writer in the third grade when I created my first short story, Timmy the Turtle. Honestly, I didn’t believe I had a future, but my English teacher fell in love with it and hung it on the bulletin board. To a young schoolgirl, that was like having a New York Times best seller!

You can learn the craft of writing from reading books by people who are self-publishing gurus, or you can join numerous writers’ support groups if you are in to that sort of thing. Not me, I would rather spend time in my office alone typing away on my laptop rather than reading blog after blog about how writing is torture or about writing a novel for 15 years. No thanks!

I have found that watching movies is the best way to pick up writing tips. No whining, just you and your DVDs or streaming service uninterrupted. So, sit back and let’s get our learning on!


The Shining (1980)


The first movie that I have chosen is the granddaddy of any film where the central character is a writer. Let’s talk Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Our dear writer is suffering from a bad case of blockage. What is the remedy? Taking a caretaker position at a remote hotel in the Rockies. What could possibly go wrong? Hundreds of rooms, solitude, ghosts? Where do I sign up?

The Shining Dull Boy

His editor had seen worse first drafts.

Jack taught me a very valuable lesson. Just write. It doesn’t matter what you put on paper, you can sort it out at the end. Let the words flow. To this day if I am struggling to finish an article for a deadline or my short story isn’t moving along, I will just type over and over, “All work and no play makes Susan a dull girl.” In the end, I feel productive and I can also sit back and feel like I have accomplished something. After all, my word document is not blank! Time to have a beverage.

Secret Window (2004)


While we are on the King bandwagon, let’s examine Secret Window, the 2004 flick starring Johnny Depp. Johnny plays a writer who is going through a nasty divorce. So what does he do? He takes off to a remote cabin in the woods for some solitude and dreams of writing.

Why is it that writers always retreat to a cabin in the woods? Haven’t we learned that this could possibly be the WORST thing ever? All I can say is, if you decide to do this, good luck! Oh, and if you hear something scratching at the cellar door, just ignore it. It’s probably a mouse, or a rat, or a Deadite.

Depp

Online Solitaire was driving him to the brink of madness.

In this movie, Johnny’s character is menaced by a farmer named Shooter. Shooter is played by John Turturro. If that isn’t scary enough, Shooter doesn’t exist. He is a figment of Depp’s imagination. Actually, they always say let your characters take you over when you write. Let them tell the story.

If I happen to bring that character to life, then they can just finish my story for me. The battle is already won. Hopefully, it will make sense. If not, it will all work out in the editing process.

Misery (1990)


It seems this has somehow become a Stephen King homage, but that’s okay. Next up is Misery. It might not seem like a useful teaching tool, but I learned the meaning of adhering to deadlines from this Rob Reiner delight.

Misery

Paul thinks of a suitable synonym for Bitch.

Paul Sheldon is in a bind. He is being forced to convalesce (from a car accident) under the watchful eye of über-fan, Annie Wilkes. Annie has very explicit methods of dealing with wilful patients. Unfortunately, Paul becomes the victim of one of those particular remedies. After Annie gives him the task of writing a new novel having hated his manuscript, Paul complies, realising that if he doesn’t there will be hell to pay. He is literally writing for his life.

Now, that is motivation! When you write like your very existence depends upon it, you will NEVER miss a deadline.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)


I am reaching into the past for this little gem: Sunset Boulevard. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden as Joe Gillis, a down on his luck screenwriter, this film showed me that if you play your cards right, you might end up with a patron.

Sunset

Okay, doll, I’ll write you a part. But you’re gonna have to sleep with me first.

Joe is running from the people who are trying to repossess his car. He literally turns a corner to hide out in a deserted driveway. As it turns out, he is at the home of former silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma is desperate for a comeback. She hires Joe to work on her terrible screenplay, Salome. Never mind that things didn’t turn out too well for Gillis in the end. He was living in a mansion, getting to wear expensive threads and basically writing by the pool.

Maybe if I am lucky, I can “run” into some fading star who is looking for a career revival. I can offer them a script and then I will get to live in a guest house at their mansion, drink Mimosas all day while writing by the pool. Now, I just have to pick a candidate…….

Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)


The last film that I want to discuss is Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. This film stars the wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker, and Campbell Scott as her platonic soulmate, Robert Benchley.

Set in the 1920’s at the Algonquin Round Table, this was a story about literary giants who would hang out together for hours, have tons of cocktails and trade barbs with one another. Head of the writers’ club, Dorothy Parker was a brilliant author known for her scathing wit.

Mrs Parker

Mrs Parker stares at the liquor cabinet.

This would be an ideal set up for me: cocktail-fuelled lunches surrounded by literati, writing magical pieces that would make me Twitter famous. I think I can hang with that! Let me just pour myself another White Russian. Watch the ideas flow and boom! Success!

Once again, movies have proven to be an excellent source of wisdom. As Forrest Gump’s Mama says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Susan Leighton


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