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Monday, April 27, 2015

On Sister Act II and How to Know if You Should Be a Writer

Folksy wisdom with a 20+ year old pop culture hook incoming!

On Writing About Writing's Facebook Page, a lot of people take advantage of the chance to promote their own work. I don't think it's always a skeevy attempt to lamprey hits off of an audience I've spent a couple of years building (I usually mark those as spam and delete them...with extreme prejudice)--some people legitimately think "hey that thing I wrote that once is a good reply to this."

I usually check them out to figure out if I'm going to say a pun in an Austrian accent right before I delete them ("Your access is denied!"), or if I'll let them stay because the sort of seem to be posted in good faith, not trying to sell motivational CDs, and at least tangentially related to writing.

This is way too much fucking set up for this story.

On Saturday night someone replied to my rerun post of the FAQ Post about writing every day to be a writer by posting an entry from their own article. I'm not going to link it here because I'm going to disagree with it a bit and I know how it can sting to find you're getting referring traffic from another blog, only to go and see that someone is taking exception to what you say. (It's a good way to get traffic to link and disagree with blogs, but it always kind of ruins my morning when it happens.)

It began by talking about a scene in Sister Act where Mary Clarence discusses Letters to a Young Poet, and how Rilke writes to Kappus that if he wakes up every day wanting to write, he's a writer.

This is the scene in question. Listen really closely to what Goldberg says:

The post went on to say that this author wakes up every day to dreams of being a writer, and that it follows her to bed at night. She encourages everyone to follow their dreams, whether writer, singer, painter, sculptor, or underwater basket weaver glass dildo sculptor, whatever.

And that's what I want to talk about, because I've actually heard this song before. (Get it? Song? That's a little Sister Act joke there....~sigh~ never mind.)

That's not just poetic license that I've heard something like this before. Oh no, my peeps. Actually when you've been moving through oceans of hopeful writers for as long as I have, you will hear this exact breakdown–complete with Sister Act II reference–multiple times. I've actually seen Sister Act II only once when it came out in theaters. It was my senior year, and a bunch of the choir kids went as sort of an impromptu field trip.  This clip, on the other hand, I've probably seen thirty to forty times, usually at the behest of some writer using it as proof that they are a really real writer....really.

And that Icecapades joke is getting OLD, lemmie tell ya.

Writers fucking LOVE this scene.They buy this scene flowers and say shit about having kids (even though it's only the first date) with this scene. If anything, I think this scene gives writers bigger heart flutters than it actually does singers. And most of the young writers I've seen picking out bedroom sets with this scene react to it in basically the same way:

They say they know they are a writer because they wake up in the morning and go to bed at night dreaming of being a writer.

But that's not what Mary Clarence says in this clip. 

Let me say that again. That's not actually what Mary Clarence says in this clip. And that's not what Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet either. Feel free to re-listen if you don't believe me. Because what they actually say is subtly but critically different.

"Being a writer" vs. "writing."

Neither one of them say that you are a writer if the first thing you think of when you wake up is being a writer. What they actually say is that you are a writer if the first thing you think of when you wake up is writing.

I don't want to shit on anyone's dreams. (Well, okay, maybe like Pat Robertson's–I'd drop a fat deuce on his dreams any day.) And I don't want to tell anyone what they ought to do when they wake up in the morning short of brush those teeth because morning breath is the worst. And I'm certainly not going to stand up here and deem who is a writer and who isn't. I don't think Rilke really wants that responsibility either. He was just trying to encourage Kappus not to judge his identity by the quality of his prose. I'm just a guy who read a blog about a clip that makes the rounds among us writers almost as much as that thing about how adverbs are always bad.

However, the way people hear this clip, and the way it changes (in exactly the same way) in so many hopeful writers' heads is worth noticing because its emblematic of an art form where (for some reason) the idea that dreaming about success is more important than enjoying the work has really caught on.

If you dream of being a writer (and the writing itself is a necessary chore to get you to your goal) it's quite a different thing than if you dream of writing. And there are an awful lot of hopeful writers who seem to have a great deal of confusion conflating the two.

I can't tell you what to do about that if it's the case, but what I can tell you is that your chances of being a successful writer without loving writing for its own sake are even worse than your chances of being a successful writer, (which already blow). And the thought of doing the kind of work it would take to become successful in an art you're not that jazzed about is refuckingdiculous with absurd sauce, so maybe it's time to go back to that first time you turned a moment or a feeling into words or that first tremendous feeling when you finished something. Maybe it's time to fall in love with writing again. And wake up in the morning and dream of writing, and let the "being a writer" attend to itself.

Because if you wake up wanting to write, it will.

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  1. Yup. I sometimes get very annoyed if I can't write due to being out walking my lovely dog. I also get annoyed when I'm meant to be socialising but am feeling the urge to tickle the keyboard. Sometimes it feels like a chore, but when I'm writing well, it's a lovely hypnotic feeling. I forget to eat, drink, or even sometimes put off going to the toilet.

  2. There is something similar I notice in young people who "live for music". Yeah, right... Those are the remarks of some young kid all decked out in expensive, stylish clothes. She/he is usually standing in front of an array of electronic toys. It is all very 'The Voice'. Said youngster just doesn't get it at all. They have in fact no idea of what singing and the love of singing are. They have an idea of what fame and fortune are and nothing more.