For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I saw The Disaster Artist, a movie I’ve been dying to see ever since I read the book. And I haven’t been able to get the movie’s subject, Tommy Wiseau, out of my head.
Why? Because I’ve spent most of this year submitting my fiction to different magazines, querying agents with two novels, and generally trying like hell to get my work out there. I’ve had a few minor successes, but for the most part I’m still standing outside the club with my nose pressed against the front window, looking inside at everyone who’s made it to where I want to be.
I keep thinking there’s got to be some kind of lesson I can take away from Tommy Wiseau’s life story.
For those who don’t know who he is, Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, produced, and starred in The Room, a movie so stunningly awful it should never have been seen in public without three silhouetted heads in the lower right corner of the screen taking the piss out of it.
Wiseau did not let the lack of audience enthusiasm stop him from trying to make his movie a success. He rented a theater in Los Angeles, erected a fairly notorious promotional billboard, and kept his awful movie playing.
Soon enough, its sheer dreadfulness attracted a cult following of famous people. That cult caught the attention of mainstream media, and things snowballed from there.
Wiseau’s had a New York Times bestselling book, The Disaster Artist, written about him. An Oscar-nominated actor made a movie based on that book. And at the time of this writing, it’s looking quite likely that the Oscar-nominated actor is going to nab a second Oscar nomination for playing Tommy. (And he should! Tommy Wiseau is the role James Franco was born to play.)
The Room is more popular than ever. My favorite part of this story is that unlike other notoriously dreadful filmmakers like Ed Wood and Hal Warren (of Manos, the Hands of Fate infamy), Wiseau is still alive to enjoy his unlikely fame. And he seems to be enjoying it a lot. Nobody really believes his “I meant to do that” excuse for The Room’s awfulness, but everyone’s having too much fun to care.
There has to be something struggling writers can learn from all this, right?
I’ve been rereading The Disaster Artist, and something jumped out at me almost right away. Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s longtime friend and his The Room costar, first met Wiseau in an acting class. If you’ve seen The Room, you already know that Tommy Wiseau couldn’t act like he was falling if you pushed him off a cliff. But Wiseau was the only student who wasn’t even the slightest bit afraid of the teacher, and that fearlessness impressed Sestero. It made him ask Wiseau to be his scene partner, and the rest is bad movie history.
Fearlessness: That’s something I could stand to work on. I’m not going to go make a giant butt out of myself in an acting class, but I do need to stop pre-rejecting myself and my stories, convincing myself that this magazine or that agent will never want my stuff and there’s no point in even submitting to them.
And then there’s persistence. Wiseau shook off the negative responses to The Room, and he kept his movie playing (and that weird billboard looming over LA) until it found its audience.
That one is much easier to translate to a writer’s life: Send your stuff out. If it gets rejected, send it out again. If you’ve exhausted all markets, write some new stuff. I’m getting better about that but I need to be persistent, to not junk a story or a novel after just a few rejections. And also? I need to write more new stuff. I fell down on that a little in 2017.
I’m not too big on New Year’s resolutions, but I think that for 2018 I’m adopting a new life motto:
What Would Tommy Wiseau Do?
OK, I know this is a really bad life motto, because a querying Wiseau would probably set up shop in NYC and storm agencies in person with piles of his manuscripts, and he’d be obnoxious and pushy and drive everyone batshit and end up being the subject of every agent’s “Don’t Do What That Guy Did” Tweets until the end of time.
And there are aspects of Tommy Wiseau’s story I didn’t really touch on here, such as his volatile personality and the incredible amount of money he has. He’s never explained how he got all that cash, but it’s a big part of why he was able to make his movie, rent a theater, put up creepy billboards, and keep The Room running until it caught on.
But still. Fearlessness and persistence. I don’t need Wiseau’s fortune to practice those. I just need that unshakable belief that my work is worth getting out there, and good things will come as long as I don’t give up.
(But if I need to write something really, really bad to get noticed, I could probably manage that too.)
P.S.: Oh, gosh. I copied this post over to Medium, and look who stopped by to throw me a recommend:
I’ll take that as a sign that I’m on the right track.