This week I showed my students Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, a free-wheeling adaptation of Susan Orlean's nonfiction book The Orchid Thief. The metafictive film is as much about writing as it is about orchids, maybe even more so, and it occurred to me as I was watching it for the umpteenth time that most viewers would not identify with the agony the protagonist, Charlie Kaufman, endures because of writer's block. Since the film also pokes fun at rules, mistaken conceptions about what elevates a film from low to high art, and the inexplicable success of bad writing, writer naturally find themselves laughing harder and cringing more than non-writers.
Writer's block is a private torture. The more one fears one is mired in it, the deeper one sinks, much like a struggling person trying to get out of quicksand instead of floating until help arrives. The non-writer finds writer's block almost glamorous, definitely fascinating, as I've found when readers ask me about it with the same kind of attention that people have when talking of car wrecks, captured serial killers, and Paris Hilton's prison experience. Writer's block is neither glamorous nor interesting, and those who suffer from it would rather not talk about it. Each false start and deleted page increases the self-loathing until the sweating, mumbling, slouching, spineless Charlie Kaufman that Nicholas Cage portrays emerges. Funny in film, not so humorous if the person is you.
As November is National Novel Writing Month, I urge all aspiring writers to knock off the self-loathing and write, even you aren't happy with the results. It's better to have written and sucked, then to not have written at all.
Of course, it's even better to be really, really good. But we won't talk about that.
Causes Debbie Wesselmann Supports
The Jane Goodall Institute
Save the Chimps