My recent return to freelance entertainment writing has involved some new and improved setbacks around technology. It turns out that nowadays every last one of us is a widely well-received author. That means you, crazy cute house cat with a trendy Tumblr feed. You too, glib grandma, with your shiny smartphone and the fancy friends following you all over the “Faceboard.”
Log on and take your pick among huge bestsellers crowding the virtual bookstores alongside big, steamy piles of self-published pulp downloadable free of charge. We working writers who once scratched out a living somewhere in the middle are now left wondering whether we can still spin a salable yarn. After all, we’ve made all of it look so easy even a monkey could do it if only he had more time on his paws.
Learning I’ve earned another set of walking papers from a perfectly sensible full-time job, friends whose careers remain securely intact grow visibly wistful. An entertainment lawyer wants to write a novel about an entertainment lawyer who lost her job as an entertainment lawyer and wrote a novel about it. Her husband, a well-published British photographer, would gladly give it all up to publish a volume of unpublished British photographs. Stop the madness!
At the risk of being a buzzkill, remember that movie where James Franco must choose between certain death and sawing off his own arm with the lid of a tuna can? That’s pretty much how I feel every day when I sit down with a cup of coffee and decide whether to work on a screenplay nobody’s asking for or a blogpost few will bother to read. Neither option feels in line with the pain-payoff ratio.
And so what if I am coming across as a big whiny-whiner, plodding toward an enviable destiny. Any real writer will tell you the choice was never hers; we all start crafting our little tales long before learning to make letters. Writers write, that’s how you know you are one — even securely locked away like Oscar Wilde or O. Henry, we’ll find a way to bring the babble. And don’t forget Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. Or was he a painter? Anyway, he had stories to tell with the original hands-free device.
Even if I never sell a word of the blather I record in my longtime blog, the ever popular “Julie Goes to Hollywood” might serve as a daily warm-up to something more solid. “I write my stories in the morning, my diary at night.,” Anaïs Nin tells us in the third volume of her published memoirs — the keys words there being “third” and “published.”
“I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day,” Joan Didion said. “I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps.” How much cooler this thankless job must have been back before clean living happened, and you could measure a day’s work in lipstick-rimmed martini glasses and stamped-out cigarettes rather than the number of re-Tweets of your assorted bon mots.
“Write drunk, edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway advised. Now there was a guy with the economy to purge those demons in a hundred and forty characters or less. He might have been creating a brand for himself all along, sponsored by Life Magazine and some market-savvy wife or another. Instagram had nothing on that bunch.
Maybe we are all storytellers, adding our margin notes to the great human narrative — yes, even you smart-ass granny, and your mouthy cat, too. Some are better at fooling the rest into thinking a job this silly merits any pay at all.
Which brings me back around to screenwriting. I never could have imagined screenplays coming full circle as my last best hope, the one remaining genre to require some skillset, however murky. A monkey couldn’t possibly do it, not without a strong story sense and some decent representation. No, there’s nothing smart about writing for money, but here in Hollywood, dope springs eternal.
Julie Ann Sipos blogs semi-anonymously as “Julie Goes to Hollywood.” A screenwriter, journalist, film school instructor and self-styled Hollywood glamour-puss, she espouses the personal motto “Make it big or die trying and always leave with your lipstick on.”