Monday, May 10, 2010

What Writers Can Learn from Betty White

On Saturday night, through the sheer power of a Facebook group, 88-year-old actress, Betty White, hosted Saturday Night Live. I loved Betty as Sue Ann on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Rose (the original Charlotte) on The Golden Girls (the original Sex and the City). Betty White has worked consistently since then, but for some reason, from a time I can't exactly pinpoint, she has become a geriatric equivalent of a rock star. 

Sure, the golden gals had long ago reached Cher and Gaga status in the gay community, but when did Betty Mania take over the rest of the world? It wasn't from her work on various David E. Kelley shows, was it? Her appearances on Ellen where she swore all the time? Perhaps it was her role as Ryan Reynold's grandmother in The Proposal. Or was it that awesome Snickers commercial? 

My point is, she wasn't resurrected from obscurity. She didn't have to become a parody of herself (a la Shatner) in order to get noticed again. She didn't dance alongside "stars" or get lost in the jungle with Heidi & Spencer. All she did, as an actress, was keep acting. And she's more popular now than she's ever been throughout her six (!) decade career.

There's a lesson to be learned here. 

In fact, there are several things writers can learn from Betty White:
  • Don't take yourself too seriously.
  • Surprise your audience and your peers, but, more importantly, surprise yourself.
  • Stay humble.
  • Don't let others tell you when your time is up. The next great series or pivotal novel can be just around the corner, even if you've already had a storied career.
  • Stay true to yourself and your style, but remember to stay relevant to the times.
  • Being classy, funny, and genuinely nice is timeless.
Remember these lessons and perhaps, someday, you will be able to say the literary equivalent of "Jay-Z is here, so stick around. We'll be right back!"

26 comments:

  1. Excellent post. At first I thought you were going to blog about the benefits of Facebook for marketing. What you posted instead is much more important and helpful for those of us who tend to want to throw in the towel every now and then.

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  2. "Don't take yourself too seriously." Mmm, yeah. That is so important for every aspect of life, but especially writing. Great post.

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  3. Yeah, great advice! I like the last one about being classy, fun, and genuinely nice. So important. Thanks :)

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  4. I clicked over to this post because I ADORE Betty White. Great advice!

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  5. Yes, and YES. Perhaps the summary of all this is ala Kurt Cobain: "Trying to be someone else is a waste of who you are..." or something like that. We are a better world b/c she is who she is.

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  6. Absolutely true! Betty appears to be herself no matter what she does and she seems to enjoy herself too. We all need to make sure we keep true to ourselves yet keep it light enough for others enjoy us and our work. When we come to the point that we think we're always creating great art, we are doing a disservice to those who might otherwise want to hear what we have to say.

    I hope Betty keeps it real for years to come!

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  7. Betty rocked it Saturday night! Who would have thought she'd end up a metaphor for fiction writers? But you nailed it -- never give up, since success might be as close as a Snickers commercial. ;)

    Good post Sarah. Nice blog. I think I'll be back.

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  8. Great post! I'm so happy that Betty White is getting her groove back. It's so cool that I can mention Betty White to my students and they actually know who she is! This is the same age group who just last year had no clue who Freddy Krueger or a Cabbage Patch Doll was! Keep rocking, Ms. White. :)

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  9. Great post -- I love examples like BW of people who succeed by being who they are.

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  10. LOL! Great post!!!! How can anyone ever expect to be happy if they aren't true to themselves???

    I only hope I can be half that awesome at 88 (and a half)! That Snickers commercial is hilarious! And I loved her in The Proposal!

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  11. Very cool post. "All she did, as an actress, was keep acting." I love it.

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  12. Very moving post, with excellent advice! I love Betty White, and was thrilled to discover that she was hosting Saturday Night Live. At 88 years old, she’s still vibrant, spunky, and very funny. Great advice about what we can learn from her.

    Another person who seems very much able to keep up with the times is Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, now 80 years old – first man on the Moon, he’s recently been on Dancing with the Stars and 30 Rock with Tina Fey, he’s been interviewed on all kinds of TV news shows, and he’s on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheRealBuzz . Very inspiring!

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  13. Amye Archer5/10/10, 5:30 PM

    Well said, Sarah. I have to agree that the Golden Girls were Sex and the City before anyone even knew what that was. To this day, I can make a whole day out of lying in bed watching reruns! (ssshhh, don't tell my boss!)

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  14. Oooops ... I should have referred to Buzz Aldrin as one of the first men on the moon. Technically, he and Neil Armstrong were both the first men on the moon, with Neil Armstrong actually taking the first step onto the lunar surface. :)

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  15. Since I was small, Betty White has beem one of my favorite TV personalities. Thanks for honoring her for being true to her craft.

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  16. Glad you all enjoyed the post! Thanks for the comments :)

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  17. This is awesome! And so very, very true!! I lamented turning 30 last year, so I just gotta keep remembering Betty and what Cyndi Lauper said on Celebrity Apprentice, "My career didn't get started until after I was 30. Sometimes life just begins after 30."

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  18. And BTW, I have all 7 seasons of Golden Girls on DVD and still watch it religiously on We or Hallmark channel everyday, lol!!!

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  19. Betty is a goddess... Her performance in Lake Placid was positively classic. We could all learn a lot from her, thanks for reminding us!

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  20. Great post! I couldn't agree more! I especially like the point about not letting anyone tell you "your time is up" - and of course, you need to stay relevant and on top of things...Don't we all try...Unfortunately we're not all Betty White!

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  21. Great post, Sarah! Good points and very well written--a nice departure from the theme. :o)

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  22. I am now hooked on your blog. Thank you for being awesome.

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  23. I think part of it is she feels she's earned the right to stop 'filtering'--she says what comes to mind and it's hysterical. I think it's true that reaching a certain age gives you permission, but you're right about it being received well because she is so charming and likeable, that when she calls Sarah Palin a crazy bitch (smiling all the while) it is HYSTERICAL instead of offensive.

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  24. I agree with everything you said except about Shatner. Getting older myself, I found his character on Boston Legal to be amazing. Very few people have been able to express the fears and the vanities without going over the edge too deeply. Shatner was able to
    That all said I want to be Betty White in 28 and a half years or probably earlier. The woman is amazing

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  25. Hi Sarah,
    I saw the link to your post through Nathan Bransford's blog. Based on the title, I thought your post would profile an actual Facebook group Catherine Mackenzie started just over two weeks ago. It's called "I bet we can make these books best sellers." (http://bit.ly/dxXtA5) With it, Catherine (an author herself, of SPIN) is trying to bring one deserving author to more readers' attention, much like the Betty White/FB phenomenon.

    The first author Catherine is focusing on is Shawn Klomparens, who wrote JESSICA Z. and TWO YEARS, NO RAIN. I just finished JESSICA Z. today, and wow – I was floored. Catherine felt much the same, which is why she started the group. Here's the link again: http://bit.ly/dxXtA5

    Please give it a click! GREAT case study for your post.

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  26. Oops, I misspelled Catherine's last name above. It's McKenzie. :)

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