The truth is that what writers do—the important part—is pretty boringby Sam Leith / October 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
What is it that writers actually do? According to the movies, I mean. It’s a question sometimes asked of mathematicians (wander around looking into the middle-distance, apparently, before frantically scrawling equations onto a blackboard), often of scientists (white coats, test tubes, incomprehensible computer displays); frequently of special forces soldiers and spies (shoot stuff; grunt with pain; sleep with attractive women), and surprisingly often—usually unsatisfactorily—of authors and novelists.
I ask because I’ve been chortling my way through season two of the Dominic West drama The Affair. Our hero plays a failed novelist who suddenly hits the big time with an overheated semi-autobiographical novel based on his extra-marital bunk-up with Ruth Wilson. How do we know he’s a writer?
Because—when unsuccessful—he stares at his laptop in a tormented way and resents his successful and obnoxious father-in-law (to the extent that he’s faint with glee when a Vanity Fair profile of the old sod insinuates he doesn’t write his own books); and when it’s going well he’s tapping away (never seeming to use the “g” or “h” keys, oddly) unconscious of what’s around him, before embarking on a never-ending book tour where he behaves with egomaniacal boorishness. It’s all making passes at publicists, drinks with Franzen, adoring young girls passing him their numbers and his taking drunken swings at the authors of bad reviews.
If you were to parcel up every big-screen stereotype of the male writer—drunk, lecherous, violent, intolerably self-obsessed—it’s all there. That said, a couple of moments hit home. One saw him forlornly toting his laptop round a new-age wellness retreat, desperately trying to find a single bench uncolonised by naked hippies playing the pan-pipes. (Substitute Costa Coffee, the British Library or your house for “wellness retreat” and chattering mothers or kids on Tinder for “naked hippies” you’d be about there.) Another had him, without a flicker of self-knowledge, asking his ex-wife to reassure him that his novel—which was based on the story of his dumping her for a young waitress—was good.
But how long does he spend dicking around on Twitter? How much time checking his sales ranking on Amazon? How much time does he spend trying to figure out how to register for PLR and ACLS online? How much time making cups of tea and “getting ready to start”? How much…