# of pages written: 12.5
I’m letting out a secret: the new novel I’m working on is about a young actress and her romantic entanglement with an older movie star. I have a little bit of personal experience to help me write on this topic since I lived in Los Angeles when I was 19 and 20 and tried (with little success) to break into the Hollywood scene.
Perhaps I would have had success if I’d had an a affair with a movie star. Instead I moved back east and went to college. I downgraded acting from career choice to hobby. When I lived in New Orleans, I starred in the musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at a local theater. It was pretty insane. Every day I taught six sections of middle school math then headed to the theater to sing for three hours straight. This led to me losing my voice for a few days, but all-in-all, it was an awesome experience.
I did a few more plays at The Actor’s Theater of New Orleans, but by the last one (“Sam” in Some Girls) I realized that I’d rather be at home writing than dealing with the demon butterflies that showed up to gnaw my insides before every single performance. I decided I’d rather be the one making up the story than the one acting it out.
At first glance, you might think that acting and writing are quite different– one involves being solitary and quiet, the other involves being boisterous and surrounded by people. But, in fact, there are many similarities between writers and actors, and it’s really no wonder I hopped so easily from one to the other.
WHY ACTORS ARE LIKE WRITERS AND VICE VERSA:
They both create characters. Although the words are already written for the actors, they are the ones who make the characters come to life with emotion and movement.
They both need, want, or have an agent. You can’t get a good part without an agent. You can’t get a good publisher without an agent.
They both come up with back story. Some actors will spend incredible amounts of time on exercises that explore their character’s personal history. The audience will never know about this back story, but it will inform the actor’s performance. The same is true for writers who write pages and pages “getting to know” their characters and the characters’ histories – back story that will never make it into the actual book.
They both are likely to eavesdrop. Dialogue is an important aspect of both acting and writing. While actors listen to how people speak (their accents, their rhythms, their body language) writers might be more inclined to jot down what they say.
They have both chosen really hard jobs. It’s tough to publish a book or get a speaking role in a movie. And people only think you’re successful at these professions if you have a household name.
They both struggle with self-esteem. Both professions are chock-full of rejection. Actors and writers have to learn to not let the no’s and the bad reviews get to them. And, when they do have success, they have to find a way to push away the fear that their best work is behind them.
They both have to sell themselves. In both professions you need to schmooze, you need to do social media, you need to have a good head-shot.
They both have to perform in public. Film actors have to present at awards shows – live in front of hundreds of people. And writers have to get used to reading their work out loud for fans.
They both have the potential to become rich and famous, but most of them never will. Luckily, I think it’s possible to never get rich or famous as an actor/writer but still make some money and enjoy what you do.
Perhaps most importantly, they both enjoy communicating ideas and telling stories. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
FAMOUS ACTORS WHO WRITE BOOKS:
Ethan Hawke – I read his novel, The Hottest State. It was sort of cheesy and angsty, but it was lyrical and I liked it despite its flaws.
Steve Martin – I read his novella, Shopgirl. (And I saw the film with Claire Danes.) The book is sort of written like a movie. There is even one chapter that reads like a split-screen scene in a movie. The book is a little unrealistic and overly-dramatic, but I still liked it.
Carrie Fischer – I haven’t read her novel, Postcard From the Edge, or her autobiography, Wishful Drinking, but I hear they are both good.
Tina Fey – Besides writing for TV, she’s also written a book, Bossypants, which I read and enjoyed for it’s light but clever humor.
James Franco – Franco received his MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia in 2010, the same year that he published a collection of short stories called Palo Alto. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I think I’ll give it a shot. It’s on my reading list.
Amber Tamblyn, one of the stars of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies, has self-published two poetry chapbooks. I read a few of her poems on her website. I didn’t love them, but I didn’t absolutely hate them either.