I watched a good Indy film this weekend- The Magic of Belle Isle- directed by Rob Reiner, starring Morgan Freeman as a writer who has stopped writing. As Freeman's character, an award winning Western writer named Monte tells his nephew, "drinking is my full time job now, and I can't work two jobs."
I like films where a hollowed out character regains his voice from unexpected sources. In this case, it begins with a nine year old girl named Finn who yearns to write. She is one of three neighbor girls of a single mom who live in the house adjacent to Monte’s. Finn finds out he is a writer, and she stops by to she ask Monte to teach her to create stories. By helping a child discover her inspiration, Monte gradually rekindles his own, which serves to remind me Inspiration cannot be forced. It’s intrinsic.
Incorporate your own life experiences.
This s not the same as the old write what you know. We write to deepen what we already know, yet discover new knowledge as well. " Monte tells Finn to “tell me a story and make me interested. He instructs her to look outside and tell him a story of what she sees. “I don’t see anything,” she says. “Keep looking. What don't you see? See with your mind’s eye. Look for what you don't see.” Finn looks again, and narrates an imaginary tale of intrigue, but uses details she knows from the island.
Monte has spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair after a car accident. He tells Finn, "All the things I couldn't do in the real world, Jubal let me do on the page."
National Novel Writing Month is coming up, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I’ve done this several times, and the “books” I created were all terrible. Only one, a mere skeleton of a tale, is salvageable.
In the film, Finn wonders why Monte uses a Typewriter rather than a computer.“I like that you write a bit slower ,” he says.”I like that letters bite into the paper.”
Writers must connect to their work
At dinner one evening with Finn’s family, Monte narrates a treacherous event about his recurring character, Jubal McClaws, to the girls. As he describes a part which might give Finn’s 7 year old sister Flora, nightmares, their mother interjects, " Remember , it's just a story. It didn't really happen.""It happened to Jubal" "Monte says
The subject finds you
Finn has fallen in love with Jubal McClaws., and she gets angry at Monte when he writes new stories about an elephant named Tony and a family of mice for her younger sister instead of penning another Jubal McClaws tale."But Jubal hasn't come calling in years," Monte tells Finn.
We can't force inspiration. If the writing is true, and yes, fiction IS true, the story comes from a real place inside the writer. Our characters are real.
Monte says, “Real life doesn't always ensure up to what's in our heads, but every once in awhile it comes close.”
Use the right words
In a scene in belle, Finn parrots something offensive Monte had said, and her mother admonishes by requiring the girl to learn three new words. She learns her words, inspiration,
Read work out loud
The girls’ mother, Cassie O’Neil, with whom Monte harbors a secret crush, reads the Tony stories out loud to Flora, and later to herself. As she reads, she hears Monte’s voice.
Stories originated in the oral tradition, written work is relatively recent, and all writing has a cadence. Reading one’s work out loud allows a writer to see where syntax might drag, or lines of poetry need to be broken.
Freeman’s character is in a wheelchair, and he tells Finn “Writing gives you legs.”
Stories, essays and poems take us places otherwise impossible
Revision is part of the writing process, and it’s never too late to re-vise a work.
When Finn tells Monte she bought an old copy of his most celebrated book, but the last page is missing, he says “You didn't miss much. I always meant to change that anyway.”
Don't write in order to get a house with a pool
Most writers will never own a house with a pool like the one above. But that does not stop me from imagining myself sitting poolside, sipping a glass of lemonade, reading the blazing hot reviews of my latest novel. Later, I will be getting dressed for my appearance as an Oscar nominated writer of an Oscar nominated film. starring Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford….but I digress..
Don't give up. In Belle Isle, Morgan Freeman's Monte believes his writing career is over, and Virginia Madsen’s Cassie O’Neil has given up on love.
Always have a deadline Monte tells Finn
There are no guarantees
Writing is a gift, unwrap it wisely.