Why We Write

April 20, 2008

Why We Write – Number 53: Curtis Kheel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 11:34 am
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Number 53

Today’s piece is written by Curtis Kheel, Writer/Producer on “EUREKA,” and former Writer/Producer on “CHARMED.”

 

I’m not like other writers.  I don’t “gotta write.”   Yeah, you know who you are.  You’re the ones who have a writing day job, but also always have a screenplay, pilot, play, novel, short story, journal, or epic grocery list going on the side that you just can’t stop writing on your own.   I know all about you.  You’re everywhere.

I call you the “gotta writers.”  Because you “gotta write” all the time, even when you have free time that I would be using for anything but writing.

To me, writing is hard work.  Painful sometimes.  It’s a job like any other job, and unless I’m getting paid for it, I don’t want to do it,.  I really don’t get why people would do it for free on their own.  You don’t see accountants running home on the weekends and gleefully locking themselves away to crunch numbers just because they’ve “gotta account,” do you?

The truth is — and I know this won’t be inspirational even if it is truthful — I have no wonderful stories that I absolutely must share.  No moral messages I’m desperate to impart.  No colorful characters that simply MUST be given a voice.   Sure, I can come up with wonderful stories, moral messages, and colorful characters… but that’s work!  (And please don’t get me started on ‘spec scripts’, which in my world are an unfortunate but apparently necessary means-to-an-end).

I am writer for hire, pure and simple.  A “gotta pay-me” writer, if you will.  The applause and laughter in response to my work is a nice reward, but the paycheck is even nicer.

Still, I know I’m also in the minority in this respect, even though I am certain there are others out there like me.  Writers who remain silent when the “gotta writers” rattle on about their passion projects, making us feel like we should apologize for not having one ourselves.  Writers who inwardly roll their eyes when the “gotta writers” prescribe creative writing as some sort of magical cure for all of life’s ills. Writers who simply choose to write because it’s a decent-enough way to make money, not out of some deep, soulful commitment to the craft.

Sound familiar?  It’s okay.  You’re not alone.  I’m one of you.

If there was a world in which I could make the same living yet not write, I’d do that in a heartbeat.   Maybe the “gotta writers” can’t possibly fathom such a notion, but believe me, I can and I have.  Maybe it’s because I don’t “gotta write” that I often wonder about other paths.  In fact, every time I end up out of a work for a few months, usually around the time I start to worry that I’ll never work again, the same questions run through my head:  Isn’t there SOMETHING else I can do for a living? Something easier maybe?

Could I be a doctor?  No.  I feel sick at the sight of blood.

Lawyer?   No.  I feel sick at the sight of enormous law books that I’d have to read.

Indian Chief?  I suspect that I don’t meet the eligibility requirements.

Policeman?  I might get shot.

Soldier?  I might get shot

Teacher?  I might get shot.

Postman?  Either I might get shot or I might actually do the shooting myself.

Pilot?  I might crash.

Fireman?  I might burn.

Psychiatrist?  I hate listening to people whine about their problems.

Bartender?  Also involves listening to whining.  No.

Salesman?  Only if the product sells itself.  Literally. Cause that seems hard.

Handyman?  I can barely change a light bulb.

Mechanic?  I can barely change a tire.  Aw, hell, I can’t even do that.

Do-Gooder?  Yeah, right. 

Wizard?  Requires seven years’ study at Hogwarts, and I’d never get in.

Career after career, I can always find reasons why the other options are more objectionable than being a writer.  But maybe that’s the beauty of being a writer. I can try all of those professions, be all of those people, just by sitting at my computer and engaging in the fine art of storytelling.  Maybe that’s what the “gotta writers” have been trying to tell me all along.  Hmm, maybe that’s why I write…?

Nah.  It’s about the money.

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

March 14, 2008

Why We Write – Number 52: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 5:41 pm
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Number 52

Today’s piece is written by Natasha Costa, a reformed reporter.

One of the first clear memories I have is of reading.

When I was about two years old I went through that “why?” phase that so many children have, and my parents always, without fail, pulled out the encyclopedia set they’d spent so much money on and had me sound out what I was asking about.It was all very exciting back then; first came the ABC song and then learning how to string letters together.  I would ask a why and my parents would help me sound out what I was looking for and then sit me in front of that set of encyclopedias and I would pour through them for hours.  I would get distracted; when you start out looking for milk and then see an entry on mammary glands it tends to happen. From there you go to nipples and uterus and sexual reproduction (I knew where babies came from long before my parents ever had The Talk with me. Thank you, encyclopedia set).

It’s a small step to go from reading to writing.  I remember being very young – maybe five or six – and being given a new notebook for school.  Instead of taking it to school like I was supposed to, I filled those pages with painstakingly etched words with my pencil.  They weren’t so much stories back then; more like me stretching my writers wings.  I tested sentences out, and before long I realized I could string together those sentences into one cohesive paragraph. 

I still didn’t make the connection between writing those sentences and paragraphs with story creation.  I was too busy reading books to think of writing my own; I started with the encyclopedias and went on to the very popular Goosbumps books, and from there the Baby Sitter’s Club.  Eventually children’s literature bored me; it was at this point that I began giving my teachers regular heart attacks because I was bringing books to school like Stephen King’s It, and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill.  I was in third grade at this point.  My born-again Christian aunt swore I was the child of the Devil when she caught me with a copy of Carrie.

Fourth grade brought with it promise; I learned double-digit multiplication, and more importantly, I was introduced to the idea of writing stories of my own. 

My fourth grade teacher wanted us to write something.  A short story, she said.  I’d done those assigned essays before, of course, but I had never once thought that actual stories were within my own grasp.  That was something other people did. 

Suddenly a whole huge world was open to me.  When the short story was finished, she said, she would actually get one of the students’ parents to help bind little books together, using art we had actually made for the cover (laminated, on tabloid-sized sheets of paper.  I still have mine, incidentally).  I threw myself to the project with gusto and I unintentionally recreated several scenes from Firestarter, one of the few Stephen King books I had not read at that point.  I severely disturbed my teacher, but I was hooked.  That little machine-sewn set of papers with my words and drawings on it gave me something of a jump-start, and from then on my parents had a hard time getting me to stop writing long enough to do my schoolwork. 

Being ten years old and rather unimaginative, I started writing fanfiction.  I did not know that it was called that back then, of course, but I wrote to fandoms at a frantic pace bordering on obsession – particularly Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and anything involving Star Trek.  I never told anyone I was writing, and at one point I was so ashamed of the stories that I burned all of my notebooks and buried the ashes in our back yard. 

It wasn’t until I got to high school that I found a friend who also liked to write as much as I did, and we started comparing notes.  He told me I had talent; it was the first words of encouragement I’d ever had in the writing realm, and it was as addictive as heroin.  Not that I believed him, of course!  No, no, good writing, in my mind, was beyond my reach.  The trick was to make whoever was reading your stuff think you were good.  It didn’t occur to me then that that is exactly what the majority of good writers do in real life.

I was still writing fanfiction then.  My friend asked me to read one of his original stories and it was just like I was back in fourth grade all over again – I could write something completely original?  You’ve gotta be shitting me! 

That was nine years ago.  I still write fanfiction, and I still write original fiction, and I still cling to the hope that some day I’ll be able to make a good living at this.  For a while I wrote for a newspaper and it brought a glow to my face – I was living something of a dream, having people read my words and laugh at all the right moments.  Even better that I was getting money for it.  Holy shit – money, just for writing!

But see, now that I’ve had a taste of it, of what it’s like to really do it, I want more.  And so every day, I get on my laptop and I stare at the screen and I write, for as long as I can bear to.  It doesn’t matter what I write – fanfiction, original fiction, poetry, essays, anything, so long as I am producing written work.  And some day, I’ll get back there again. 

So for me, it’s a toss-up.  I write because I love to read my words on paper, just like I love reading others’ words on paper.  I also write because of the hope.  I guess it’s sort of like why rednecks buy lottery tickets, or why people pray – it’s that hope.  The hope that something amazing will happen to you, something life-altering.  Whatever it is, we know that we’ll never be the same after it happens.

Why do I write?  You might as well ask me why do I have hopes, or dreams?  Why do I breathe?  The answer is very clear – I write because I am human.  

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

March 3, 2008

Why We Write – Number 51: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:52 pm
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Number 51

Today’s piece is written by Elaine Figueroa, a college student studying abroad.

 

I’m in Paris right now studying abroad for a French degree I’m not sure I’ll get anymore.  And I blame it all on my love for writing.  In English.

It’s my fault really.  I’ve loved to write since 7th grade when I immortalized one of the best summers I’ve ever had in a journal.  And I’ve written since then in a total of twelve journals, two binders, 4 separate online blogs, and even in my school notebooks amongst math equations and historical dates.  The act of writing stemmed from my love of books and film.  The works of J.D. Salinger, of Buster Keaton, of Flannery O’Connor, and of Stanley Kubrick–they all inspired me to write and to make movies.  I wanted nothing of this world, of this life, than to join the never ending procession of artists that I adored. To be one of them.

Fast forward to my junior year of college double majoring in Cinema (focus on screenwriting) and French at San Francisco State.  I was accepted to study abroad in Paris for an academic year.  If my number one dream was to be an accomplished writer/filmmaker, then my number two was to live in Paris for a year.  The timing was perfect: I was young, my parents were supporting me and very supportive of studying abroad, and I didn’t think I’d get to travel much after college because I planned on moving back home to LA after school.  The plan was to finish my French degree abroad—thus taking a break from cinema—then come back to finish the cinema degree and graduate.  I felt like I could take a break from film and writing and get to focus on French, and I even started to like the idea of this hiatus.

When the time came to gather some recommendations, I went to my screenwriting professor, Joseph McBride (see a nobody film student like me can namedrop too!), who wrote the script for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and published biographies of John Ford and Spielberg to name a few, and he suggested I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for inspiration.  He also gladly accepted to write me a recommendation because he knew what an opportunity like this meant to a student.  That summer before I left for Paris, I returned the favor by writing a letter for his tenure and promotion.

October.  Two months have passed since I settled into Paris.  I was happy, but in a lot of ways, I wasn’t.  I loved this city, the monuments, the art, the fact that Hemingway lived up the street, only ten minutes away.  I was inspired every day, but I was depressed.  And confused. And the only way to deal was to write.  And what better place to write than in my blog that I started specifically for my study abroad year, Paris For A Year (http://parisforayear.blogspot.com/).This was my crisis.  My plan of “taking a break” from film and writing to focus on French wasn’t going over so well.  I was writing in my journal and posting on my blog every day.  All in English, my langue maternelle, the only language I’m truly comfortable with.  I was thinking of new film ideas during French class, my notes cluttered with shot descriptions and dialogue.  I was going to the cinema down my street seeing films that I have never had the chance to see projected (Pulp Fiction, The Cameraman).  After all this, it was slowly becoming clear: I no longer wanted to learn French.  At least, I didn’t want to major in it anymore.  Coming to Paris was never about the French major.  It was about cinema.  And writing.  It was always about cinema and writing, the two go together like crêpes and nutella.  The dream was to write and live in Paris the way my neighbor Hemingway did.  Not to conjugate verbs or translate texts.  That was all just an excuse to come here.It took me two months in a foreign country to realize that I couldn’t take a hiatus from what I love.

I wrote about my whole epiphany in my blog.  I wanted people to know why I was acting the way I was, and I wanted my Mom to read it because that was better than me telling her over the phone.  This is why I write.  I write because I don’t know how else to express myself.

I write because I see these images in my head that I don’t want to forget, because I hear words that need to be in ink.  I have to get these things down because it’s torture if I don’t, and lost to oblivion if I’m unlucky and without a pen.  I write because nothing satisfies me most than turning my words into images on film with the help of my film friends, and then showing my complete work to my peers for their enjoyment and criticism.  I write because I’m not very good at speaking.

I write because it gets me to avoid things I loathe like vacuuming or even a French paper on Gustave Courbet that’s due next week.  I do it because after a page or two of writing my heart out, I feel like I’ve lost pounds.  I write because I know this is the best gift I have to give and that someday, maybe, I can use this gift to pay my parents back for financing my year of writing abroad.

Thank you for reading this and for giving me a reason to write why I write.

(NOTE: After much deliberation, turns out I will be getting my French degree after all.)

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 24, 2008

Why We Write – Number 50: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 6:39 pm
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Number 50

Today’s piece is written by Carrie Higuera, Creator/Writer of absolutely nothing. 

 

I knew what I wanted to do when I was very young.  I lost sight of that in the last decade or so, but in the last year I’ve re-discovered writing and how much I miss it.  It all started when I was not quite three years old.  I was hospitalized with h. flu meningitis and I spent ten days in hospital with my parents at my bedside, night and day.  Once I was declared out of the woods by my doctor, my parents felt confident enough to spend a night at home for a decent night’s sleep.  The next morning, the nurse wanted to know how my parents were able to manage with so many other children at home, while they spent all of their days and nights at the hospital with me.  The nurse asked specifically about my little sister Susie and Mark, and the twins.  She had names and ages for all the children and the poor nurse just couldn’t understand how my parents could leave them alone for so many days and nights without so much as a hello.    My parents were, rightfully, shocked and embarrassed.  At the time, I was an only child.  I continued to be an only child for four more years before my one an only sister was born.  My poor parents had to apologize and explain my overactive imagination to the sympathetic nurse, which they called “lying” out of her earshot.  Eventually, I learned to curb my “lying” by writing things down instead of gabbing to whoever would listen.

Stories have always intrigued me.  I read profusely as a child, Ramona Quimby books in first grade, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books in second, The Black Stallion series in the summer after second grade, I finished War and Peace in the third grade (ok, I read that on a bet), and then I started with books I then later had to reread in high school and college.  Television and movies also consumed most of my non reading hours.  I was fascinated by words, how characters said words and by the emotion, or lack thereof, the character felt.  I KNEW I wanted to be a writer, there was no question.  I did everything I could to prepare myself as a writer, including taking AP English as a senior in high school.

So naturally, when it was time for me to choose a major in college, I chose business.  Yep, business.  I stoically took my Microeconomics, Global Management, Statistics, Business Law and Creative Writing classes that first semester.  I was miserable.  Beyond miserable.  If it had not been for Creative Writing, I would have dropped out of college before that first year was up.  Granted, I did like the Business Law class but that follows suit doesn’t it?  Law is about people and our lives are essentially stories…so and so did this to that person, they retaliated, etc.  Aside from Business Law, I dropped statistics, barely passed Microeconomics and I honestly have no idea how I did in Global Management.  Creative Writing was my salvation.  After that first semester, I switched my major from Business to English with a writing emphasis and blissfully finished college. 

And because I was a complete and total twit, I followed my friends into the teaching profession after earning my BA.  I continued on at the same school to earn my teaching degree, seemingly on course with a distinct and honorable career choice.  It was during one of my teaching placements that a long expired memory surfaced.  In the eighth grade, my math teacher’s wife passed away near the end of the school year.  We were asked to send a little note or some small kindness to him.  I wrote a somewhat lengthy poem, placed it in an envelope and left it on his desk.  Our class never saw our teacher again and I never thought twice about that poem.

During my student teaching placement, I was placed into a first grade classroom with a seasoned teacher, directly across the street from my former math teacher’s home.  I soon learned he was a frequent visitor and a member of the school board.  I will never forget what then transpired.  He came in that first day and stared at me.  I thought nothing of it, I was sure he recognized me as some student he must have taught at one point.  I was busy working with the children and we did not have the chance to say hello.  The following week, he came in and as the teacher I worked with began to introduce us, my former math teacher said that he knew who I was.  I replied that he had been my math teacher in the seventh and eighth grades.  And he then said that no, he knew my name.  He then teared up.  I was taken aback to say the least, what on earth did I do to make this kind man cry?  I honestly had no idea.  He then said that I was the one who had written the poem when his wife died.  And then it all came back to me.  How on earth could someone remember something I wrote (and considered so insignificant) nearly a decade later?  I was floored.  He went on to say that he really just wanted to thank me and that he had never gotten that chance and had hoped we’d meet me again one day to thank me, all for a simple poem.  Wow.  It is a feeling I will never forget.

As if meeting my former math teacher was not amazing enough, I met yet another person who remembered me for a poem I had written.  This time, I was in a sixth grade student teaching placement and the third grade teacher at this new school remembered me as an eleven year old.  Holy smokes.  She brought in a hand full of poems I had written and shared them with me.  Again, it was a feeling of complete amazement that this woman remembered me because of a few poems I had written.  I can only imagine what real writers feel when they watch an audience who appreciates what they’ve written.  It must be incredible.

Ah well, life happens.  I did not follow my dreams of becoming a writer.  I’m no longer a teacher either, loved the kids…hated the parents.  I’m a parent myself now and had the chance to take a step back this past year and look at what it is I love.  My love of stories has not changed, nor will it ever.  I think back on that feeling I got and what an amazing, confusing and admittedly, what a thrill it was to have someone remember a small little nothing that I once wrote.  Not long ago, I sat down to write something I’ve had roaming about my brain for literally years, anxious to start putting it to paper.  I stared at a blank page and cursed myself for having no idea where to start.  The joys of writing, huh?  It is so much more difficult than I remember it being.  I had big dreams as a child.

I can only imagine what it must be like to write something an entire nation (and beyond) tunes in for each week, to see your written words personified.  I will continue to be envious of all of you who are lucky enough to write for a living and I will continue to write myself, even if what I write never leaves the confines of my computer, because it is still so much a part of me.  I watch television and movies because I know a writer has written all that I am watching, and for that, all you writers out there have my utmost respect and full support.  Thank you for all that you have written and for all that you have yet to write.

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 21, 2008

Why We Write – Number 49: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 2:59 am
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Number 49

Today’s piece is written by Jessica Kane, an aspiring writer. 

 

Growing up, I dreamt of having an amazing career as many things: A veterinarian, a pro tennis player, an acclaimed artist, or a Ghostbuster, among other jobs.  As I got older, however, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t make a career out of any of these things, simply because I get dizzy around needles and blood, I possess a limited amount of athletic ability, I reached the peak of my artistic career when I drew my first stick figure, and, well…to be honest, there’s nothing really restricting me from being a Ghostbuster except for the distinct lack of ghosts around my neighborhood.  As a matter of fact, the very thing that prompted me to become a writer was the film Ghostbusters (if I ever win an award for writing, I’m dedicating it to Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd).   You see, I started my first script at the age of nine years old during my first visit to California.  Why did I start it?  Well, as corny as this sounds, I had a dream.  This dream was about Ghostbusters 3 (for I have spent the majority of my life praying for this film to be made in any way, shape, or form).  Who knows if I had had too much sugar before going to sleep, or if that newfound California sunshine sent sparks of enlightenment into my subconscious?  The only thing that I do know is that the morning after I had this dream, it occurred to me that I could write about it.  I happened to have brought a notebook with me, so I cracked it open and began writing an action sequence for the damsel in distress Dana and her now fourteen-year-old son, Oscar. 

Once I started this story, I became infected.  I lugged that little notebook with me all around California, writing while in the car, at the pool, and in our hotel room.  I have never taken drugs, but as far as I can tell, the way I felt about my first screenplay during those days in California must be how an addict feels about his narcotic of choice.  Once we flew back home, a bit of the magic that I had felt while in California left me, and I was left with a severe case of writer’s block.  My only solution to this problem was to set Ghostbusters 3 aside once September came in order to focus on schoolwork and sports.  I figured that writing, like my other aspirations, would soon become a slightly memorable hobby that I’d once had.  However, it didn’t, if only for the reason that writing gave me my first taste of what that emotion called passion was all about.  Once the fourth grade ended and summer came around again, I added more to my script; this pattern continued every summer until I was about to enter the eighth grade.  It had taken me four excruciating years, but I finally finished Ghostbusters 3 (the first draft – who knows if I’ll go back and clean up all of the completely horrible, embarrassing jokes that I thought were funny between the ages of nine and thirteen?).  Anyways, it was an accomplishment, and I had never felt so proud of anything in my entire life.       

Finishing Ghostbusters 3 opened my eyes up to other mediums that needed writing, such as television and theater.  I wrote a spec script of The Office my freshman year of high school and have another one that is halfway finished.  I’ve discovered other brilliant minds that have made TV so much more than I ever possibly thought it could be (Joss Whedon and Mitch Hurwitz, I’m looking at you guys).  It also destroyed my social life, seeing as, at the age of 13, I began demanding to be near a television set at 11:29 P.M. every time a new episode of Saturday Night Live aired (I kind of study them – I’m a loser…it’s okay, I know you’re all thinking it).  During my sophomore year of high school, I co-wrote a play for a theater festival that my school runs.  Seeing words that I had written being performed and receive laughs from an audience was so wonderful that I can’t properly put it into words (okay, if I had to try, I would say that it was like eating a chocolate lava cake with a chocolate milk shake while simultaneously receiving a backrub and having your feet rubbed – but that’s still not even remotely close).                        

So, why do I write?  I want my voice to be heard, but I’m too shy to speak out (isn’t that what writing’s all about?); I want to procrastinate studying for tests (like the one that I have on Macbeth tomorrow); I want to escape the torture chamber that is high school (without actually dropping out); and I truly love it (for now, until I get older and cynical and have a family that needs to be fed based off of a writer’s salary, assuming someone will actually hire me).  Oh, and I still can’t be a Ghostbuster.

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 18, 2008

Why We Write – Number 48: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:47 am
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Number 48

Today’s piece is written by Kelly Dunleavy, who writes for a fashion magazine. 

 

When I was 7 and joined the swim team, I became convinced a shark was going to kill me at my local pool. Just because I couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there. That shark was going to come up through the drainpipe and bite my leg off. I’ve seen the shows; I know how this shit goes down. 

Last week, ever so much older, I found myself alone in my gym’s pool and I knew: this is it, this is when they would come for me. No one around and raining. Drop a water moccasin in the water (something I’ve been terrified of since Lonesome Dove), it’d slither up and I’d be very dead. It didn’t matter that I don’t have any enemies (who are that resourceful), those people on CSI are always getting murdered on accident.

But that’s not why I write. That’s why I have issues being alone at night.

I am good at a lot of things. Not really good. Just good. Above average. I am above average at math, public speaking, sports (except basketball and tennis) and baking desserts, to name a few. I am barely skimming the surface in writing.

And that is why I write.

My teachers would encourage me to go into physics or to pursue a career as a politician. ‘Actuaries make good money,’ my godmother’s daughter would say. ‘I know a guy, let me give you his number.’

Instead, for our weekly essays in grade school, I would turn in 12-page hand-written epics starring Pendryn, the stranded survivor of a space exploration mission on a journey to recover the lost sphere of Oleuas. Or diagramed stories starring characters modeled (ever so subtly) after my classmates, stuck in a parallel classroom in a world underground. I started a poetry writing business and charged my parents’ friends for poems titled ‘Sisters’ and ‘Good-Bye Coby’.

I didn’t want to be a writer. God no. I wanted to be the long-lost twin child of Princess Leia and Han Solo, who would come take me out of the protective custody they had left me in because they needed me to help them save the world. Spent a whole year waiting for that one.

I wanted to be the President, until I figured I’d get shot.

I wanted to be an explorer, but all the islands had already been discovered and planes make me sick.

And that is why I write.

That’s why I work at a fashion magazine. Oh, wait, no, I work at a fashion magazine, because the real world is an odd and twisted place, with a dark sense of humor.

But that is why I stay up late some nights, scribbling, trying to write as fast as I can think, positive this is the sentence that’s going to make me a star. This is the first page of a novel that’s going to be the next huge first page. Because I never get beyond the first few pages. I wake up the next morning, like a bleary-eyed sorority girl, wondering, ‘What did I do last night?’

And it’s always crap. I can see that now. I’ve lost whatever precociousness I once had. It’s not cute anymore. Now, I’m just another sad, hipster, writer-wannabe. I might as well go buy myself a beret.

So why do I keep at it, in between bouts of fiscal responsibility?

Because people said I couldn’t; my grammar skills would hold me down. Because it kills time until the CIA needs me for a super-secret mission. Because I would be a horrible doctor. Because when I am killed in a horrific meteor accident, the likes of which have never been seen before, at least I’ll have left a record behind.

Because I’m a paranoid, over-imaginative hypochondriac with few valuable skills and virtually no sense of self-control.

Because it’s all I want to be good at.

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 17, 2008

Bowing to popular demand…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 1:35 pm

… we’re going to keep this site up and running.  We’ll put at least two posts up a week, continuing to mix established writers with “non-pro” reader submissions.  Thanks for voicing your support: you inspired us to make the commitment to WHY WE WRITE despite the rigors of actually, finally, having jobs to go to.  So keep those essays coming in, and I’ll be talking with you soon.

February 15, 2008

Why We Write – Number 47: Billy Frolick

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 12:18 pm

Number 47

Today’s piece is written by Billy Frolick, Co-Writer of “Madagascar.” 

 

I write because I really can’t do anything else.

When I was a kid, I was always the smallest in my grade.  Every time the boys were lined up in size order, I was first.  Every time teams were picked, I was last.  There was absolutely no advantage to being small.  I was useless at sports, invisible to girls — who seemed to grow three times faster — and a perpetual target for random schoolyard beatings.

Hoping to get noticed for something other than shiners and fat lips, I cultivated skills of mimicry.  While imitations of my teachers may not have improved my grades or increased my height, this burgeoning talent at least distracted from my vertical deficiency, kind of like a magician’s patter. And I realized something else:  Girls were paying attention.  They were laughing at what I was doing.

If I couldn’t be an athlete, at least I could rank on them.  And maybe some girl who hated herself for crushing on jocks could fall for a brace-faced, four-eyed, seventy-pound boy who helped illuminate that the football team was just a bunch of of retarded apes.

But if you’ve ever seen an impressionist who didn’t have material, you know that the shelf life for such an act is awfully short.  Thus, I had to start thinking funny.  Inspired by the parodies in Mad magazine, my routines started getting a little more inventive.  I imagined songs the school principal might sing in the shower, or what it would be like if the star point guard was the transvestite bank robber in Dog Day Afternoon, and worked in these new bits.

After graduating from film school, I was hired as an ABC page, wearing a stifling polyester uniform and escorting geriatric bus groups into tapings of Family Feud.  Soon after, I worked at ICM as a secretary, in a slightly less uncomfortable suit.  A dozen other hell gigs on the fringes of the industry followed.  After almost ten years, I had “ascended” to a dead-end position as a low-level development executive.  It didn’t seem like things could get any worse.  I was powerless, I was depressed, and — once again — I was invisible.  

Then the 1988 WGA strike began, and I was unemployed.

I turned my tragic agency experience into an 800-word comic roman a clef, and Premiere magazine bought it.  Then I wrote a screenplay, and got an agent.  It all seemed so much easier than waking up early, putting on a suit, driving to an office, and staying awake during staff meetings.  I vowed to keep writing, and try to make it my livelihood.  After the strike, I somehow got hired to write an episode of AMEN, a sit-com I didn’t even like.  That got me into the Guild, got me health insurance, and put braces on my kids’ teeth. 

Looking back, the truth is that I was no better at those entry-level jobs than I was at junior high school sports.  But what ultimately saved me was the one thing I could do: think funny.  That’s all you really have to do to write comedy.  And you don’t have to wear a suit.

Would I still rather be able to hit a fastball? 

Of course. 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 13, 2008

Why We Write – Number 46: Charlie Craig

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:42 am

Number 46

Today’s piece is written by Charlie Craig, Co-Editor of “Why We Write” and Executive Producer of “Eureka.” 

 

Okay, I’m going to do something I never do when I write: set off without a firm end in sight.  Actually, I never do it in life, either.  There’s a time and place for spontaneity, you know what I’m saying?

So why am I acting so rashly?  Especially when the subject at hand is “Why I Write?”  

Because I don’t know why I write.  I really don’t.  At least, I don’t know why I started.  I have no entertaining stories, no particular moments in my childhood that upon reflection are clear signposts that lead the way to being the Showrunner on EUREKA.  I mean, I liked TV.  Everyone did. But I didn’t head off to college with a burning desire to see my words on screen.  

I did have an appreciation for story, though.  I had that.  Instilled by my dad, an eminent history professor and author.  He read to me a lot, and not just Babar.  I’m talking Horatio at the Gate. I grew up liking things that had something exciting going on between their beginning and their end. To this day we still read to our kids – and they’re 14 and 17, so I guess the story thing sank in.

Eventually, I went to college, and made a little movie, and went to graduate school, and made another little movie, and found myself making informational films for the Department of Defense. At that point I came to a big decision:

I did not want to make informational films for the Department of Defense.

So I wrote a script.  

Why?  Why did I write?  

Well, if there’s any moment that led me here, I guess it was this one: I distinctly remember saying to my girlfriend at the time (lucky for me, she was soon be my wife): “Look at most TV shows. They suck.  And you have to assume that those scripts are the GOOD ones, right?  So… I can write stuff that’s at LEAST as good as that, right?”

I don’t think that qualifies as inspiration.  Or even inspirational.  I’d say it was ignorance that allowed me to try and open the door.  And luck that that door was marked “WRITING.”  And unlocked.

24 seasons later – which is 115 in people years – I find my average day at work is comprised of so many things that AREN’T writing I hardly ever get around to doing the thing that got me started down this road.  I cast, I edit, I deal with actors and agents and studios and networks and the writers on our staff… and then it’s bed time.  Which means, basically, that I could pretty much do my job now and NOT write.

But I still DO write.  Which is weird, because (surprise) it’s not like I enjoy the process.  Stories are HARD, especially when you combine this OCD-like need for all the elements to be of a whole and for the (used to be four, now it’s six) act structure to really WORK, you know?  That shit is HARD.  Amazingly, it’s just as hard on a crappy show as it is on a good one, which does NOT seem fair.  But, whatever: I’m just saying that the process is not a cakewalk.  I say that with assurance, and without knowing what a cakewalk is.

But… I still write.  

And now, thinking about it, I realize that I may know why.  When I’m done spending days or weeks constructing a story, changing it to suit the studio and network concerns, then changing it again so it still makes sense to me; when I’m done sitting in my comfortable chair and scribbling out a scene or an act in longhand on my needs-to-be-white-and-do-NOT-try-that-legal-sized-shit-letter-sized-pad… then I get to do what I consider to be my one truly, unequivocally enjoyable task in the whole goddamn process: I get to sit in front of my computer with my barely-legible scene propped against the monitor – my destination chosen, my map complete – and I get to write.  

It’s like coloring at that point: the outline is there, the shape of the thing, and now I get to choose from an infinite variety of colors to bring the page, the story, the characters to life.

I learned how to fly once, a long time ago.  It was scary, and demanding, and dangerous.  If I wasn’t careful I had the potential to hurt a lot of people.  The planning before a flight, and the attention to detail during one, was exhausting.  But there was a moment, when you’d planned and checked every last detail and communicated with everyone you had to communicate with, that you got to pull back on the throttle and feel yourself lift from the ground.  There was a moment when you suddenly said to yourself, “I’m flying.”

I no longer fly, but I do still write.  I guess for me they’re one and the same.  And I guess that’s “Why I Write.” 

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 12, 2008

So we’re about to go back to work…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 6:35 pm

… and the question is what do we do with the site.  I’m posting my own WWW tomorrow – don’t look for anything as eloquent as what you got today from Thania – but then what?  Leave comments on this post if you have any brilliant ideas; all I know is we’re going to be too busy to keep things up at this pace!  We have an nice community here, and I’d hate to lose it.

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