Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing Thoughts From "The Gambler"

A movie called "The Gambler" isn't the first place you'd look for serious writing discussion, but it does feature that.  Marky Mark Wahlberg's character Jim in the film is a self-destructive gambler who also happens to be a published novelist and teacher of "modern novels."

The first time they show Jim in the classroom, he gets into a discussion of Shakespeare and genius.  One student challenges him about Shakespeare being a fake and he claims all those accusations about Shakespeare's "real" identity are just jealousy because genius is a rare, fluke thing.

The idea is that no one can create greatness; it just happens.  You could have Stephen King and JK Rowling make a baby and it might turn out to be a plumber instead of a writer.  Conversely you might have a plumber and a housewife produce the greatest writer of all time.

I have to agree that you can't really produce greatness through genetics.  Even if you pulled a Dr. Mindbender from the old GI JOE show and took DNA from history's greatest writers, you still probably wouldn't get the greatest writer of all time.

Besides an elemental spark of genius that is required, a lot of a writer's real DNA comes through experience.  There aren't many plumbers who could go knock out something the caliber of Shakespeare without some training first.  One needs to hone one's craft.  But with some guidance, maybe a plumber could take his life experiences and make one hell of a fine book.

Another issue Jim brings up is about the writing world in general.  A student asks if he would write another book and he says he wouldn't because he doesn't want to be a midlist author writing books for other midlist authors whose work he has reviewed. 

For the most part this seems like defeatist talk.  My first book didn't sell all that great so I'm just going to take my ball and go home.  Of course the $17,000 he made from the book is more than a schlub like me would make in my lifetime.  At the same time, some big-time authors probably make that much in five minutes.

But this is also part of the reason I haven't written literary fiction in almost six years.  If I ever thought about it, a voice in my head said, "Why bother?  Hardly anyone will read it.  It won't make hardly any money."  So I get what he's saying, that if you don't have a niche audience, it's not really worth it.

The way he puts it is, "If you don't have the genius--don't bother."  I would disagree with that.  A lot of successful writers aren't geniuses.  I mean do you think Danielle Steele or James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks is a genius?  I don't, but then people like crap.  And many geniuses are unappreciated in their day.


  1. Genius is nice, but practice and persistence will get you much farther than genius and idleness. As long as I get to share the stories that move me and find people who appreciate (and pay) for them too, I'm good.

  2. There was actually a study not too long ago that dealt with the genetics of writers, and they found that writers are more likely to have children who write. There is also a connection to how good the writing offspring will be.

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