During a recent first-time viewing of Romancing the Stone, I found myself transfixed by the opening scene: the protagonist is alone in her work space, deep in the throes of her writing process. As I watched, I wondered—how many similar scenes of women writers at work had filmmakers captured, and what themes could I make out across them? Would I spot my own writing habits at play in their fictionalized ones? I set out to find more of these depictions in movies and TV shows, pressing pause whenever I spotted a lady-identified writer mid-scribe. Behold these ten examples of women writers at work, presented chronologically, spanning 30 years of TV and film.
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Adventure novelist sobs while completing her manuscript in Romancing the Stone . Visible writerly equipment: oversized plaid nightshirt with sound-canceling headphones, overturned Chinese takeout box, lit tapered candle, typewriter, can of Tab, an empty box of tissues, the silhouette of Texas on a cork board. Not pictured: a cat named Romeo, tiny airplane-style liquor bottles, a post-it note reminding her to buy more tissues.
Mystery writer plots out her novel in Murder, She Wrote . When she’s not gone fishing, riding a bike, or slinking through her seaside town in a sleek trench with a determined look on her face, you can find this writer pecking at keys in her dark musty den, delighting at her tale’s twists and turns. In later seasons, she’s shown in her sunnier kitchen studio, typing at furious speed, framed in neglected potholders, dishrags, and appliances.
In Just One of the Guys , a teen journalist breaks from writing her prize-winning article on how “you can be cool even if you don’t dress cool” to negotiate some critical high school affairs. Visible writerly equipment: shoulder-height stack of textbooks, Webster’s English Dictionary, overhanging houseplant. Not pictured: fringed white leather mini with totally sharp boots.
Diarist bangs out an entry in Heathers . Visible writerly equipment: monocle, silk robe, mesh inbox, letter organizer, white vessel with a cork in it, stuffed toys on a sill or in a fireplace, bookshelves. Not pictured: uppercrust parents.
In Poetic Justice , a poet pens thoughtful curlicues in a leather-bound notebook propped against her steering column between shifts at an LA hair salon. Visible writerly equipment: car parts and a laminated pansy. Not pictured until later: Maya Angelou!
In The Hours , a foremost modernist surrounds herself in fanned stacks of paper, everything dappled with light. Visible writerly equipment: a teacup, a half-smoked cigarette, sensible Mary Janes, a loosening braid. Partially pictured: her inalienable inner despair.
In The L Word , a writer aims to rid her short story, Thus Spoke Sarah Shuster, of what her instructor deems “hubristic, overly precious puns.” Visible writerly equipment: red Bic pen, legal pad, peter pan collar, black jumper. Not pictured: the doe-eyed visage enclosing her formidable brain.
In Ugly Betty , a creative writing student recoils when her instructor admonishes her in front of the class. Visible writerly equipment: troll doll pencil topper, spiral bound notebook, puffed sleeves. Not pictured: the know-it-all professor who raises his voice in an ALL-CAPS effort to make her find hers.
Memoirist pens her first-ever tortured account in Violette . Visible writerly equipment: consistent color palette of red, blue, brown, green, and plaid; a perch of moss-covered stones; and disused buildings. Above her (not pictured) the waggling bare limbs of trees.
Hopeful romance novelist mends a rift in her writing group by offering a cheerier critique in Jane the Virgin . Looks like someone providing the papers writing help here, though. Visible writerly equipment: billowy night shirt, gossamer curtains, colorful notecards, muted lighting, soulful aura. Previously pictured: Jane Seymour, workshop instructor extraordinaire.
If we take these depictions as true, women writers are working at home in poor lighting in the off hours, wearing their choicest pajamas. They write publicly in classrooms, nature, and parked cars. They are sometimes struck with emotions that leave them with delighted, soulful, bereft, or beatific facial expressions. While there’s plenty that’s not pictured, this isn’t too far off from my own experience as a woman writing in the world. How does it match up with yours?
Leslie Patron lives and writes in San Jose, California, where she is the founding editor of the place-based journal, Cheers from the Wasteland. Her writing has previously appeared in Harp & Altar, La Petite Zine, Swine Mag, With+Stand, and others.