Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Deep down I've always been a writer," says Madonna about her screenplay

OK, so why does this comment bother me so much? I teach writing and work privately with writers and I do everything I can to help anyone who wants to be a writer, but somehow this statement from Madonna riles me up. Yes, she writes songs, but the lyrics are sort of lame and the tunes dancey and she is certainly not Elvis Costello or Irving Berlin, now is she? This comment was about a film she wrote, which didn't get a great critical response. So why should it bother me? What does it really have to do with me? Do I want to exclude people I don't like from the world of writers?

I don't think so.

I think writers write. All the time. Not just for fame. Not because they already have fame and their grocery list could land on the bestseller list. Because they have to. And somehow, a statement like this denigrates what real writers do. She has had all the time and income and drive to write since she was 17, so if deep down she felt that her mission was to be a writer, what was stopping her before? If she had said that she wanted to try writing a script and how hard she worked and how meaningful the process was, my respect would have been enormous.

I had a really close friend who decided she wanted to write. I offered to help anyway I could, but the questions she asked me were always about what size font she should use or how much money she might expect to make on her first novel. Of course, those are reasonable questions to ask, but not before you have put words to paper, and in the end, the only writing she did was in her pocket diary, which was jotting down things people said because "it would sound great in the book she was going to write!" It's like Sarah Palin proclaiming that she knows all about foreign policy because she can see Russia from her backyard. And it doesn't show a respect for the long hours, the angst, passion, dedication and the very hard and lonely work that go into being a writer. It reminds me of all the times I have gone to parties and as soon as people know I am a novelist, I hear, "Oh, I have a book in me, too!" or "If I had a bit more time, i would be a novelist, too!"

Hey, I say, everyone is invited to sit at the table and join the party. The more the better. I will pour the wine and clean up afterwards and urge everyone to stay. But all I ask is that you bring something to the table. Am I just being grumpy here?


Clea Simon said...

Maybe you are, but I am, too. Everyone thinks he or she can write, because he or she can talk. My friend Chris and I call these folks "instant artists." (She gets it because she works mostly in abstracts -- after years of study, including years apprenticed to a fan maker in Japan -- and people are always looking at her beautifully composed, yet seemingly simple pieces and saying "I can do that.")

I've learned to say great. I can't wait to read your first draft.... Haven't had to yet.

Gina Sorell said...

I get this too. After all I live in L.A. and everyone thinks that they can be an actor or a writer. Never mind that I have been doing this since I was 9, attending performing arts schools, colleges, theater companies, etc. basically training out the wazoo!! But then again, if people keep perpetuating the myth that all it takes is to be voted the winner in a singing/dancing/talent can you blame them?

And don't get me started on screenwriters. Everyone it seems can write them...thankfully novels are taken more seriously.

Great story about Margaret Atwood: At a dinner party in Toronto a brilliant surgeon says to her..."ooohhh novels, when I retire, I am going to write a novel."

And Margaret Atwood says..."When I retire, I am going to operate on brains!"

G :)