What can two popular actors possibly have to do with us writers, our careers and motivation levels? First let’s take a look at who and where they are:
Mads Mikkelsen played the James Bond villain in Casino Royale, won Best Actor at Cannes this year, and he’ll also be starring as Hannibal Lecter. Yep, the very one played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Oh, and did I mention he’s Danish?
Gerard Butler is probably the one you are more familiar with. After all he’s that actor who shouted “This is Sparta” before kicking a cocky Persian right into the bottom of an endless well in the movie 300. He’s known for his dedication to his parts (that Spartan body was really his!), diversity (the guy played the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera), and ability to tackle accents. Why else directors would cast him as American or Irish instead of hiring equally or more popular American or Irish actors?
But whether you like them or their movies isn’t the point. The point is what they accomplished, how they accomplished it and what you can learn from it.
Writers are prone to depression, lack of motivation, bouts of self-doubt, fear of ruts and writer blocks. They also worry about their age, nationality, talent, the competition, rejection, income…and that’s why I like to look at Mikkelsen and Butler when I experience any of those.
1 ) Nationality:
Mads Mikkelsen is from Denmark. Gerard Butler is Scottish. None of them grew up in L.A. Now, if they can make it to Hollywood, you should definitely not be discouraged about your nationality when it comes to your writing.
While your location or citizenship can prevent you from submitting to some magazines (for instance some Canadian publications only work with Canadian writers, or some contests require you to be a legal resident of the country the publication is based in), there are tons of other contests and markets that don’t really care about where you are from. They just want good work.
Butler was 25 when he decided to really pursue acting, instead of just wanting it. He was 28 in his first onscreen appearance.
Mikkelsen studied acting, but his first onscreen appearance was in 1996, in a short film. He was 31.
Granted, late 20s and early 30s can seem very young, or young enough, depending on how old you are (or how you look at things), but remember that they didn’t start a writing career-they started an acting career, from other countries and competed against people who had been building industry connections since they were pre-teens, whose family members were in the business and so on.
Your queries and manuscripts don’t give a damn about your age. Neither do your editors.
Even if you are trying to write for a magazine whose target audience is way older or younger than you are, it is still all about getting the tone of the publication, understanding what the editors need and coming up with an attractive idea.
Your age doesn’t matter. Not that this is an excuse to delay your career efforts for decades. Make your move now-just don’t obsess over your birth date.
3) Industry connections
Like I mentioned above, Butler and Mikkelsen weren’t born into Hollywood families. I’m not saying the good actors who knew the right people don’t deserve to be where they are. But let’s face it: all things equal, the guy who knows people will be one step ahead of you. He doesn’t even need to be getting favors-he’ll know how things work, he’ll know who to talk to. More studios will know his name. And there is a big chance he has started before you. More experience, better CV and all that.
Imagine you started your writing career without knowing much, if anything, about writing queries, markets, genres, networking….Most of us did. We had to familiarize with ourselves with the process, jargon and fight against people who thought we were dreamers…
The point is that it can be done, whether you initially know someone or not. But once you get started, you have to start building that network of yours. Gerard’s first connection came from a theater backstage gig he got after deciding not to be a lawyer.
Not all dancers win Best Actor at Cannes, nor do they get to play Bond villains. And I’m not sure there are many Danish dancers, if any, that got worldwide critical acclaim for their acting, leading and supporting roles in many different countries (not just Denmark, or the States.)
Butler has a law degree from Glasgow University. He just hated his job the moment he started working as an intern.
This is not to say their careers didn’t benefit from those backgrounds. Mikkelsen always has a certain amount of grace he carries around him, and he is not camera shy when it comes to interviews.
Butler always seems like he is chatting with his best friends and having the time of his life during interviews. And the fact that he knew a bit about persuasion and body language didn’t exactly work against him. And hey, knowing what contracts are about can’t have hurt either. Oh, and one of the reasons he was chosen to play the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera was that he had a rock’n’roll voice? Complements of singing in a rock band.
Whatever your day job is/was, there is always something you can use about it to come up with ideas, build relationships, form an audience, etc. You may want to check out Carol Tice’s “How My Crappy Day Jobs Made Me a High-Earning Freelancer” post on Freelance Switch for tips.
Of course your day job doesn’t have to be crappy to help you. John Grisham is a lawyer, in addition to being one of the most famous bestselling authors, who comes up with brilliant legal thrillers and dramas. Needless to say, he doesn’t ever have to worry about using the correct words, seeming off with his descriptions or doing that much research. He also created his first book, second bestseller, A Time to Kill, based on a real life court case he witnessed. A bestseller that went on to become a movie starring A-List actors.
Not that my success is anywhere near his, but I did get published on Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing with my article “One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career”,detailing how my part-time job (one that I still have) helped my writing career in so many ways. Just thought this example might be a tad more relatable than John’s.
5) Persistence, dedication, hard work
If there is any other job that comes with the risk of rejection at least as much as writing, it has to be acting. It’s audition after audition, trying to persuade the director and/or the casting people or the starring actor that you are the best person for the job. It is not easy to pick up your courage and motivation after hearing no, but you do it anyway because the award awaiting for you will make you so much happier than the rejection made you miserable.
Butler’s director in the movie One More Kiss Vadim Jean was quoted to say that he never knew anyone that worked so hard to make his career happen.
That’s the attitude that got him where he is today: sought-after, successful and easy to work with. You are easy and fun to work with if you really want to be where you are, and put in the work where you are. And editors, as well as other clients, love easy and fun to work with.
P.S. John Grisham could only get A Time to Kill published after he finished and found a publisher for The Firm. A Time to Kill wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t put himself out there again and fight back with another manuscript.
6) Going from fighting for gigs to gigs being offered to you
Gerard Butler played Attila The Hun in the mini-series Attila in 2001. The producers originally wanted someone more famous. And maybe someone with less of a Scottish accent. But they couldn’t find someone they liked better than Butler, and he showed them he could change his accent. 2001 was way before 300, The Phantom of The Opera or P.S. I love You. Before nobody really knew who he was.
People joke that any Danish director casts Mikkelsen whenever they want to secure box office success or awards or both.
More familiar names are not always the best choice. More established writers may not always provide the better ideas.
7) Room for self-improvement, fun and other important things in your life
Mads Mikkelsen speaks Swedish because he lived in Sweden for a while and they couldn’t understand his Danish so he learned Swedish. He speaks German because a German director wanted him as the German lead. He speaks French and Russian because he played Igor Stravinsky in the French film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. He is obviously fluent in English, having had roles in American movies and constantly giving interviews. And his favorite method for learning languages? Watching movies.
He is also married and raising 2 kids with his wife.
You were saying you couldn’t find the time for…what?
So you are working hard. It doesn’t mean you can’t take time for hobbies, learning, family and friends. Living a full life will make you happier, more full of ideas and more equipped.
8) Proving talents in more areas than one.
Mikkelsen has done drama, romantic drama, period movie, comedy, action, adventure and fantasy, horror, romantic comedy…
Butler has done musical, action, adventure, thriller, horror, drama, romance, romantic comedy, fantasy…
You don’t have to choose between business writing and article writing. Between fiction and non-fiction. You don’t have to pick topic to write about. Go out there, show your best work and keep trying until you get the gigs that make you happy. I don’t know about you, but variety makes me happy.
9) International success
Well, you all have a pretty good idea what these two actors accomplished so far. Why not set your sights on writing for the most established magazines worldwide, writing a best-selling book or being sought-after by well-paying clients worldwide?
You know what it takes. You know it is all about how much (and well) you work, improve and motivate yourself. And you know it doesn’t mean you are not going to have time for other things. In fact, it is all about benefiting from all areas of your life, even things that initially seem like obstacles or motivation-busters so you need to live a life outside of your office too.
So go ahead. Work. Live. Have fun. Make it happen. Gerard Butler and Mads Mikkelsen made it happen, and they are only few examples in a very, very long list. Why shouldn’t you?
And don’t worry, I’m a big fan of practicing what I preach. I’m taking my own advice as I keep pitching to publications, running various blogs, having a busy social life and working on my fiction.