Writers Write … Don’t They?

Pitch Engine  (NZ  Writer’s Guild Magazine) Sept 2008


It’s happened three times this week already.

The conversation goes something like this:

“Hi what are you up to?”

“I’m writing a book,” I reply. “Well actually, I’m writing two books. One’s a textbook.” (I don’t add the other five or so things I’m doing or I’d seem a complete plonker.)

“Oh,” they say. ”I wish I had more time to write, but I just don’t seem to have enough of it these days.”

I smile weakly and nod a silent homage to the god of slightly stupid responses. I ask them what they last wrote or what they are working on now… you know, in the writing department of their lives… um, er, well, nothing, they reply – not yet. Though two of the three suggested they might do a writing course one day… when they had time.

his implies to me that these great creative lives don’t have a clue what it’s actually like to actually write and they haven’t actually done it and are still assuming that its something that they could do, and will do, in their spare time, and if they did in fact have the spare time they could (and would) write the next great New Zealand novel.

You know the attitude: “I’ve read a novel or two so what’s the issue? – writing one should be a piece of piss.”

Already I can tell they have decided that something shorter would be easier than a novel, as they begin to explain their moment of ‘something traumatic once happened to me’ and everyone should care about it.

Then finally they confess: “But really I think it might work better as a screenplay, you know, a major theatrical feature film.”

Hey, why don’t you write a hit song while you’re at it? – After all a song is only 25 lines (according to Leonard Cohen and that’s why he sometimes takes five years to complete a song).

“25 lines, really?” they say with surprise. You can see them thinking, Well in that case I’ll write three hits before lunch.

Oh yes, darling, I would be a brain surgeon, a dancer or an architect but I just don’t have the time… “Or maybe one day I might just take up serious screenplay writing… my Dad bought me that McKee book last Christmas, you know the one on ‘Story’, but mind you I haven’t had the time to read it yet but I’m thinking I might just keep this writing thing as only a hobby…”

“What?” I enquire with an eyebrow raised and an open gaze to encourage truth and honesty.

“Um, er… because I am just doing this make-up, Grip, Gaffer, Runners job (dear reader, feel free to fill in the thing that you feel you could be in your spare time when you’re not writing) before I get discovered.”

Obviously their ability to out-write and out-perform your own professional career is a given because they will be totally brilliant as ‘only a hobby writer’. They say this to somehow reassure you that they won’t be stealing from you… (even though they just have).

The frightening truth is that they actually think they are really, REALLY a Writer in Waiting just as they might be an artist, or the Prime Minister, but they simply haven’t been discovered yet… and don’t get me started about being a Director!

“…Now that’s something I could really excel at – but only total ‘wankers’ do that job – so I might just stick to this Assistant Grip thing, until, well, um, er, you know at least until I get the new set of wheels paid off…”


Waka Attewell is a Director/Writer/Cinematographer and over the last 35 years has also occasionally produced. He lives on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington – when not working in the film and TV business he runs a small beef and sheep dry stock farm.