1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Writing about writers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by deadrats, Sep 10, 2016.

    Have you done it? Would you do it? Has it been done to death?

    I would be surprised if any writer writing for a substantial amount of time hasn't done it. The struggling writer character (that we swear is not based on ourselves). The struggle to publish. The suffering for art. How do you keep a story like that from being cliche?
     
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  2. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I think you do it the same way you keep anything from being cliché. You take some time to cultivate the idea, let it cook in your brain for a while. I actually heard an interesting TED talk on this exact subject. The speaker said that people are at their most creative when they procrastinate. Not to the point of scrambling to get things done. But he said the most creative people he encountered were the people who formulated an initial idea, then put the project away before starting to work on it. He contrasted this with people who got an idea and jumped right on it, and people who waited for the last minute. He found that the two latter groups I mentioned tended to be less creative than the people who took some time to let their ideas incubate.

    I wrote a story like this, only it truly wasn't about me. It was about a creative writing instructor I had. The story was complete garbage and I promptly threw it away when it was finished. Looking back, it was probably so shitty because I was writing it out of malice, as a jab at the guy rather than because I really wanted to tell the story.
     
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  3. HistoricalScience
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    HistoricalScience Active Member

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    Writers are people too! If the character has depth then why not? Stephen King has certainly had some success with it.
     
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  4. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Has anyone written about a writer trying to decide whether or not to write about a writer?
     
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  5. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    I wrote a story about a writer writing about writers whose only motivations are to write about writers.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I hesitated and didn't write that...
     
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  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of great novels have gone the route of using an MC who is either an artist and or a writer/journalist. It does make some sense if the POV is 1st person- someone who writes is more likely to write the story.

    In fact, I would argue that one of the advantages to 3rd person is that it more realistically allows you to write main characters who do not possess literary skill.
     
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  7. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I wouldn't, just because when other writers do it I find it really irritating. (But then a lot of stuff irritates me.)

    I think it depends on the extent to which the writer in the story is the writer of the story. Two examples that annoyed me so much I couldn't read the book were the writer in "Money" (I think?) meeting "the writer Martin Amis" in a pub, and Philip K. Dick's sci-fi writer Horselover Fat in "Valis". I'm not sure why it bothers me so much. Maybe it's that using a fictionalised (and especially a parody) version of yourself in your writing feels, for me as a reader, like an extreme in-joke. It feels smug and exlusionary. Maybe.

    The journalist thing, I get. And @123456789's point about the plausibility of a 1st person POV is an interesting one. I suppose it depends whether you regard the story as 'written' by the protagonist or somehow translated directly from their experience of the world (not their writing, not even necessarily their thoughts?) into words. I mean, you could do 1st person for an illiterate character, right? I think writing first person in a style that the narrator might be capable of producing would be more about characterisation than plausibility.
     
  8. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    I've always thought that, if you have a story to tell, tell it. What is your view of being a writer. Maybe you want to tell a story of a writer working on a book but throughout the book he comes across tones of struggles that you may have come to writers. Maybe writers don't get enough credit in your belief so you can write about that.

    I'm more of a dark, grungier author than most so I would probably write about a struggling author who is going through hell and comes out with something beautiful on the other side once the book is said and done. Maybe he has a shit life, no to little money, working his ass off on the side just to make a couple bucks so he can continue his art.

    But yeah if you can figure out a good way to do it that tells your tale than I don't see a problem with it.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Misery... need I say more? :)

    Seriously, though, I think almost every writer has done it at some point, even if just for their own amusement. I wrote a short screenplay (Beware the Muse) and I got a lot out of it because it was the first time I managed to make a theme work.
     
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  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think Charlie Kaufman came closest with Adaptation.
     
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  11. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    Atonement. The entire book is meta and horrifying in retrospect.
     
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  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was on amazon last night, looking at books and using the wonderful Look inside feature. The first one I looked at was about a struggling, penniless writer, and then I started looking through the Customers who bought [this] also bought... list and at least five of the dozen or so I looked at were about writers, and all told in 1st person. For what's it's worth the list was very much geared to writers like Fante, Bukowski, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Miller... so certainly of a type. I was still very encouraged, though.

    Personally I'd be too self-conscious to write about a struggling writer. Readers know the book's character is based on the author, despite what the author themselves claim, and for that reason I would feel as though the reader was judging my writing. I know that a reader does that anyway, but it would almost be as though the reader was saying, "Yeah, your character can't get published, and if your own writing is any clue I'm surprised you did."
     
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  13. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I meant that I would be surprised is a long-time writer hasn't tried it. It was a typo. I fixed it in the original post. I do agree with you.
     
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  14. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    If you can find a link to that TED Talk, I would love to check it out. I got the chance to interview a pretty well-known writer once and she said her process was to think about a story idea for a few weeks and then write it in a day or two. She was talking about short stories, but I found her approach interesting. She doesn't outline, just thinks about it until she's ready to write. And her short stories are among the best I have ever read.

    I wouldn't assume a writer writing about a writer is writing about himself. Okay, there was probably a better way to word that sentence, but I think you know what I mean. Maybe your attempt wasn't as bad as you thought. I don't think our reasons for writing something dictate how well a story comes out. Do you think you will take another stab at it? Either retelling the old one you trashed or with a new idea? I think writing about writers can be a tricky thing to pull off. But when done well, what writer doesn't want to read a good story about writers. Personally, I love it, but it's not something I see too often. Actually, I think I have come across two stories about a writer or writer in the literary journals I read (I read a lot of them) in the last few years. They were really good. One was about a professor like your idea. Maybe it's worth revisiting that story. It would have been great if you got a chance to workshop it in a class with that professor. Wonder what he would have said.
     
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  15. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I'm working on it. LOL.
     
  16. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I don't really think the POV matters. A good story is a good story, and I've seen stories about writers in both first and third. I don't think it matters if the writer character is any good or not. It depends on what kind of story you are going for. But the real writer, the actual person writing the story, will need to possess some good storytelling skills, regardless of how good or bad their character is at writing.
     
  17. Spencer1990
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    Above is the link to that TED talk. He's not necessarily speaking about writers, just the creative process and original thinking.

    Also, if I had workshopped that piece about my professor, it would have been an insult. It was a shitty idea and I shouldn't have written it for that reason. And I think the reason for writing the story matters in regard to being excited about an idea. I wasn't excited about that idea and the writing reflected that. I wrote it to be an asshole. That said, I'll probably recycle the character in another story when I come up with a good spot for him.
     
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  18. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I wasn't thinking the character in the story is the one writing the story, but that way can happen too. I was kind of thinking the story is about something else, but the character(s) are writers. Even if the story is about the characters writing and being writers, they don't have to be the one writing the story even in first person. I think it can be pulled off both ways. But you said that it's not your thing. That's cool. But whether a writer is writing about a writer or something completely different, aren't a lot of our characters some sort of fictionalized versions of ourselves?
     
  19. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think the struggling writer idea might be a little cliche. Sure, it can work, but it's not all that original. I think writers are interesting people beyond the struggle to publish. I don't know, maybe not. What do you think is the most interesting thing about being a writer? Do you think a writer character needs to be struggling with publishing? Obviously, there are examples where that's not the case, but I would love to hear more about what you guys think.
     
  20. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I'm writing a story about a writer, but it's not about his writing.
    Does that count? I've always liked stories or movies about writers. Do non-writers like them?
     
  21. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that's the million dollar question, isn't it? I like novels about writers, but is that because they make an interesting subject, or is it because I enjoy writing myself and can relate to the character?

    It's just like @Foxe says, are they interesting to non-writers?
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Done to death. Probably stems from the "write what you know" advice, since one thing all writers know is being a writer...

    Before I was writing, I always did a little eye roll when a book featured a writer. Seemed like a cop out.
     
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  23. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Oh, no. It's probably obvious that I started this thread because I was working on something along these lines. It's not a woe-is-me kind of story or anything, but it's probably a cop out. And I can totally picture whoever will read this at the literary journals I submit it to totally rolling their eyes. Another story about a writer by a no-name writer. They probably get that all the time. And now I'm realizing that it's not the story that is cliche but me.
     
  24. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    You're quite right. I think it's just the 'writer' element of the slightly-faffed-with-self-portrait that gets up my nose. The protagonist of Heller's "Something Happened" has a lot in common with the author and I love that book. In "Good As Gold" the MC also has a lot in common with Heller... but one of those things is that he's a writer... so I hate it. I make no sense.
     
  25. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Write-ception :supergrin:

    That is a rabbit hole worth exploring. :p
     

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