Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Let’s Reinforce Every Negative Stereotype While We’re At It

Three stories about writers.

First Story

My first job in Corporate America was for a technical writing consulting firm. During the orientation, my boss told me, “We have great benefits because the company was founded by writers. Basically, we’re all hypochondriacs and all write excellent complaint letters.”

Second Story

When I applied to college, the admissions packed gave me three essay topic choices. I responded with three essays with a note saying, “Thank you for the opportunity to make a choice. I now return the favor.” Two of the essays were written for laughs, talking about how I want to go to this college because I heard it was mobbed up and I wanted a career as a hit man or how my sense of consumer’s remorse was going to lead me to work in a sneaker factory in the Far East once I graduated. I wrote one essay about how important writing was to me, and how most forms of communication (like speaking) didn’t quite work for me, but give me words on a page, and I feel a sense of competency I lack in every other area of my life.

It was sincere.

It was heartfelt.

It stunk.

I showed the essays to a few friends, soliciting opinions. In a very real sense, I was litmus-testing them. If they could pick out the right essay, the serious, sincere, and heartfelt one, they had taste. Of course, no one picked that one because it wasn’t funny, and it didn’t connect with anyone unless they were also earnest and sincere about writing. In that case, they were only reading the work so they could tear it apart.

Third Story

In college, there was a Journalism professor who began every Journalism 101 class with this joke: “What’s the difference between a Journalism major and an English major? A Journalism major writes something every day, and every day, the Journalism major’s work is read and enjoyed by thousands of people. English majors spend years – YEARS – writing one little dissertation, which will be ready by ten people, and the only reason those ten people are reading this dissertation is because they want to disprove it.


I was thinking about stereotypes of writers. Of neurotic, shrill, obsessive writers. I’m always keenly aware of these because it is easy for me to fall into them. I try not to be overly protective about my work, to be overly hostile towards constructive criticism, or to be overly obsessed about the oddest things.

My latest obsession is Trigger Street.

For those of you who don’t know, Trigger Street is a website for aspiring film makers and screenplay writers. You join the community, read, view, and review submitted works, and then, after you’ve participated in the community for awhile, you get to submit your own work for approval. Basically, it is a writer’s mosh pit, with only a few pieces of work get to be the dude who surfs around on the hands of the other rabid moshers.

When I joined the website, I had to agree to a bunch of conditions. I must be encouraging. I must refrain from crude or language. I must not taunt the writer because the writer is an emotionally fragile being.

So far, however, all the website has done is reinforce all my negative stereotypes of writers. I read and reviewed a screenplay about a guy who visits a lake house community full of women who all are attracted to him and love him, even though no one knows who he is and even though has sex with a sixteen-year-old on a picnic table in full view of several major characters. No one cares, because he is just that charming. Then I read a screenplay about a screenplay writer who becomes a King of Hollywood and has a major motion picture actress fall in love with him. This all happens in less than a month because he is just that lucky.

My reviews were as encouraging as possible, focusing on the minutiae, “That one line on page 27 was funny,” or, “You write like you know this region of the country very well” before I get to the big issues, “It doesn’t seem so much like a story as it does a check list of things you wish would happen to you.”

Needless to say, I got my first piece of hate mail in response to one of my reviews. Ok, maybe “hate” is too strong of a word. Gripe mail. “Your review said I have sections of real snappy dialogue and then patches where the dialogue is slow and boring. Well, buddy, that is how REAL LIFE IS. I am a brilliant writer because I’m able to capture REAL LIFE so well. One day when you’re a real writer, you will understand how it is. Sincerely, MonkeyDude227”

(And, no, the email does not say that word-for-word. Even though there are quote marks, I’m embellishing for dramatic purposes.)

Getting gripe mail usually bums me out, but fortunately, Elaine Liner, the Theater Critic from the Dallas Observer, has been writing great little missives from a Theater Critics Camp. Sure, they reinforce all sorts of negative writer stereotypes, but you know what? They’re funny.

Day 1

Day 2

Days 3 through 9

Day 10

Last Acts

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