What You Can Learn from Movies About Writers

I've been thinking about movies I've seen that really made me think about the writing process and the writing life and that I've learned something from. I thought I'd share the ones that struck a chord with me.

Adaptation (2002)

This is a fantastic semi-autobiographical tale about the film's writer, Charlie Kaufman, in his quest to adapt the book The Orchid Thief (by Susan Orlean) into a movie. The result is exactly what you see on screen in all its off-the-wall craziness, and it's phenomenal.

What you can learn: Everything you write is terrible and cliche and predictable. Your efforts are in vain. You will die lonely and miserable. But if you meet your deadlines, if you sweat and bleed and work your hardest, in the end, you'll have something beautiful and spectacular and complete. Passion is worth sacrificing for, and writing is no different. There are stories everywhere: start living them.

Also, Robert McKee is God.  (LANGUAGE WARNING)


Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Will Ferrell is the unwitting hero in his own monotonous life who one day starts hearing a narrator tell his story. Emma Thompson is the author whose writer's block is the only thing that is keeping him from meeting an untimely death, and it's up to him to find her and change her mind about killing him off for the sake of her book.

What you can learn: Sometimes your characters will take on a life of their own. But that doesn't mean you get to go easy on them. Make them suffer. And be prepared to kill your babies.


The Shining (1980)

A family retreats to an old hotel for the winter. The father, a writer, is slowly driven to violence by an evil spirit that is also affecting his psychic son.

What you can learn: All Work And No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. Get out of the house once in a while, especially if evil lurks there. You can't write in a vacuum and, let's face it, murdering your family is not going to help you sell your manuscript.

Misery (1990)

Stephen King takes two places on this list because, let's face it, he knows what he's talking about and has a knack for showing us the worst of the world.

A popular novelist is rescued by a fan (famously played by Kathy Bates) and forced to rewrite his manuscript to please her fandom mania.

What you can learn: If you're lucky to be a publishing phenomenon, you'll get fans. Lots of fans. Sometimes even crazy ones. Be prepared to deal with them. Maybe not like this, though. (EXTREME VIOLENCE CONTENT WARNING ON THAT YOUTUBE LINK.)

Got a film about writing you want to share? Leave a comment!

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