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5 Things Pop Culture Thinks Writers Do

So last month I started a job where I mostly get to blog all day (some of the blog posts I write are about DIY plumbing or trade shows in Vietnam, but still). I’m pretty excited about it because I’ve wanted to write professionally since roughly the age of 5, when I used to write sentence-long stories in crayon and force my family to listen to them. The job has more or less lived up to my expectations of what it’s like to be a writer. However, I’ve realized that my perception of being a writer has been somewhat skewed by the pop culture portrayal of writerly folks… and I’m pretty sure pop culture has led a lot of other people to have skewed ideas about what writers do as well. Here are 5 of my favorite pop culture representations of things that writers are supposed to get up to.

1. Stare forlornly at their typewriters.

Guilty parties: Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, probably anything that Baz Luhrmann decides to direct in the future

In fairness, there have been studies showing that highly creative people have increased rates of bipolar and depression disorders, but come on, Hollywood– not every writer spends every day weeping salty artist tears onto their vintage typewriters while dabbing at their eyes with a croissant (maybe I’m remembering Moulin Rouge incorrectly, but I think that’s what Ewan MacGregor does). That wouldn’t be at all productive, especially in this modern age of not-entirely-water-resistant laptops.

2. Spend only a tiny fraction of their time actually writing.

Guilty parties: Sex and the City and…probably something else, but Sex and the City is the main offender

According to this trope, writers spend .5% of their time writing and 99.5% of the time going out on the town with their gal pals. I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw must get paid about 10 grand per sex pun, because that’s the only way I can imagine she affords her lifestyle. Homegirl’s getting a lot of O’s in her paycheck (that was my attempt at a Carrie Bradshaw pun–can I have $10,000 for my efforts, please?).

3. Practice being a recluse.

Guilty parties: Girls, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Alright, maybe there’s some truth to this… I would probably be in danger of descending into recluse-dom if I was left to my own devices and didn’t have 4 (awesome) housemates and a boyfriend who watches the same TV shows I do. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a writing assignment, put your headphones in, and then start thinking you’re the phantom of the opera or something. This phantom of the opera fantasy becomes even more full-blown when you’re sitting on your bed in your darkened room with only the glow of your laptop illuminating your face (at least it does for me).

4. Retreat into a land of child-like whimsy.

Guilty parties: Midnight in Paris (to some extent), Finding Neverland

In the world of movie logic, if writers aren’t being tragic mopesacks, they’re being zany dreamers with imaginations that can’t be contained– or they’re being mopesacks who use their escapist fantasies to put a buffer between themselves and a reality they’d rather not deal with. But hey, it’s a trope that really gets you to empathize with the protagonist…or at least it works on me. I cried like a baby at the end of Finding Neverland. 

5. Descend slowly into madness.

Guilty parties: The Shining, Secret Window

Apparently only a deeply disturbed person with homicidal tendencies would ever choose a career that involves sitting quietly while forming words on a page all day. And according to pop culture, writers are just one key stroke away from letting the waves of crazy wash over them. Sometimes writers will just be depicted as mildly eccentric, or antisocial, or drunk, but movies like The Shining and Secret Window take the trope one step farther and depict writers as in need of some serious counseling…and in desperate need of being kept away from axes and baseball bats.

As an side note, I really enjoy all the movies and TV shows I referenced above (well, except maybe Sex and the City). I just also enjoy pointing out tropes.

If you’re interested in checking out more movies and TV shows about writers, here are a few good ones:

  • Spaced (TV)
  • Barton Fink (movie)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (book and movie)
  • 30 Rock (TV)
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About Madeline Jacobson

Saturated in pop culture since 1990. Writing about it since 2012. If you want to talk to me about anything I blog about, please do! Comment on my blog, or find me on Twitter @mjacobsonwrites

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