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!”
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26 thoughts on “What Writers Can Learn from Betty White

  1. 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.

    Like

  2. 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

    Like

  3. 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.

    Like

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