Today’s piece is written by Skye Dent, a TV/Film writer currently producing a Sidney Poitier remake.
I’ve been so fascinated with how well everyone prior to this penning can verbalize why they write. For years I’ve tried to tell friends and family why I write. For both me and them, the words never seemed sufficient. Gloria Estevan put it much more melodically. “The words get in the way.”
My mom still introduces me by saying “This is my daughter, Skye. She’s a writer. Tell them what you do.” She seems to be saying that being a writer wasn’t something that one did, at least not for a living.
And for a while, she proved to be right.
Like most of the WGA members, there are long stretches of time, sometimes years, when my writing doesn’t make a living. When I first left a fairly profitable career as a journalist, one of my sisters used to continuously taunt me by saying “Boy, you made a mistake. My husband makes more in a few hours changing tires on 18-wheelers than you do in one month.”
As much as one would like to, you really can’t fire your sister.
And like my mom, she was right.
My brother-in-law made more doing emergency repairs on tractor-trailer rigs than some entertainment attorneys. We were screaming “Go Teamsters” long before they joined us on the picket line.
Then, there’s my other sister. She hedges her bets. She’s convinced that most great writers only become recognized for their great works after they’re dead. In case she’s right, she has… rights… to all of my scripts after I die.
Hell, what do I care. All of my psychics say I’ll die abruptly and painlessly. So, it’s not as if any money that comes in will go towards the health maintenance system, a misnomer if I ever heard one.
Another sister, the successful sister, has an explanation for why I write. She says there was so much violence and abuse in our household as kids that I escaped by going to the library to read and write. In response, I made a Milchian joke ( as in David) about how I should credit abuse for getting me into Brown University. “ Ha, ha,” I said, “violence does have some good residual effects.” Oops, sorry to mention the R-word.
So, to be honest, I guess I should really title this essay, “Why I wrote.” Simple. Writing got me out of the ghetto. If you go to the projects in Roxbury, Boston where I grew up, you’ll see condos. But, back when I was growing up, all of Boston was a ghetto, physically and mentally. Writing got me out. Writing took me across country. Writing took me to Europe and South America.
Writing got me my first script assignment. When writer friends found out that I had written a letter about myself asking Jeri Taylor for a chance to pitch at “Star Trek: Voyager,” they laughed and said “No one writes letters in this town.” Jeri Taylor invited me in to pitch and the first thing she said was “No one writes letters in this town.” Then, she hired me.
That’s when I found out, writers for TV and Film may not all be damn fine humanistic or even human human beings. But, they are witty, intelligent, fun, charmingly caustic, passionate, intriguing, sometimes senseless and sometimes nonsensical beings. (Don’t believe me. Meet Carleton Eastlake. He’s all of that rolled into one.)
In short, they are some of the most knowledgeable people I know.
So, perhaps fulfilling the 60s parental mantra of “education will get you everywhere in life” somewhere along the line, way before the picket line, took on a twisted, different meaning for me. The Twisted Sister. Instead of using education to get me someplace, I ended up being drawn to people who are educated. Maybe not in the traditional sense. But, admit it. What writer do you know who does not know a hell of a lot more about certain subjects than you do? And don’t you sometimes walk away from a conversation with such beings asking yourself, can life get any better than this?
And OK, over time, I came to love writing. No apologies. No explanation. Except for exercising, which is more of a spiritual pleasure than anything else, the longest relationship I’ve ever had is with writing. And the people who “get” me are writers.
I’m not one of those writers who never had doubts. Just never about writing. A few years ago, I decided I needed to grow up and get a “real” gig. So I got a job as a media relations specialist for UConn, properly spelled U-Con.
By that time, being a writer was so much a part of me that I started to have withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t sleep at night. My steps seemed to continually lead me to the university’s school of fine arts. I had dreams in which I was a character in a horror film set on a Connecticut cow country campus. I went into therapy. Started taking Paxil. Heard slinky noises (You know, the toy) in my head. I probably would have turned pale and pasty, except… Black folks never get that sick.
So, I guess you could now say I “write” to keep my head “right”.
I came back to Hell-A. My family doesn’t make fun of my writing anymore. Apparently, they missed me. Writing brought me back, and they seem happy to have me around again.
I started this essay because I wanted a voice on Why We Write to be from one of the struggling writers so that outsiders reading these essays would quit saying in sniggering tones “Yeah, of course they like to write. They’re paid the big bucks.”
I’m paid very little bucks, when I’m paid at all. But, I know I’m at my best when I’m writing and I know I’m a better person when I write. If I couldn’t write, I wouldn’t be me. Nothing deep. Nothing profound.
End of story, you’d thinnnnnnkkkkkk.
Lately, I’ve been lecturing at universities quite a lot.
The professor in charge usually introduces me with the words…
“This is Skye Dent. She’s a TV and film writer. Tell them what you do.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.