Why We Write

January 7, 2008

Why We Write – Number 11: Bill Lawrence

  Number 11 

Today’s piece is written by Bill Lawrence, Creator of “Scrubs” and Co-Creator of “Spin City” and “Clone High.”  He finds himself boyishly handsome.  


When I was eight, I recall my dad, red-faced and neck veins bulging, screaming at my mom to “Speak only when spoken to, dammit!”  I knew I should probably abide by the same rule, lest I wanted to face the rage that jumped into his eyes whenever Mom dared to mention maybe slowing down on the scotch, especially if he was going to drive my sister to work later (all the while hating her for having a job when he did not).  So that was my home – cold, and shadowy, and so full of fear that it was blaringly quiet.  For me there was only one safe way to express myself: writing.

Now, in fairness to my dad, none of that is actually true.  I don’t have a sister, and my parents were/are lovely and supportive.  They remain crazy in love, walk the street holding hands, and probably even occasionally have sex (it is truly weird and disturbing).  The reason I told that badly constructed, melodramatic, fake story is to tell you this real one: I write because it is the only way to get paid for being full of shit.  The implication, of course, being that I, personally, am full of shit.  I am.  Seriously, ask any of my friends (acquaintances won’t cut it – most of them still find me truthful).  When I’m on the phone, the writers on my show play a game called “truth/lie/exaggeration,” categorizing each statement into its proper station.  It’s not a malicious thing, mind you.  It’s never to screw someone over or further my career.  It’s always about making the story better.

All the men in my mom’s family are large mouth bass fishing guides on the St. Johns river in rural Florida.  I do not enjoy fishing.  If you do, congrats – you’ve apparently found a way to enjoy sitting around all day doing nothing. Call me and explain it, I’ll finally be able to get close to my uncle and cousins.  It’s too late for me to bond with my grandfather.  He actually passed away out on the river.  In my head I always think that he knew something was physically wrong, maybe even felt pain in his chest, but he was unwilling to boat home because he had a good feeling about catching a ‘big ‘un’.  Now, my grandpa actually died at home in bed (of Parkinson’s, an annoying player in my life brought back by Mike Fox).  The point here is that I don’t like fishing, but man, I love fishing stories.  I watched my mom’s family tell them, hone them, add to them – it was a science that ended with a basically true tale that would be told over and over to any listener’s delight.  I officially became one of these storytellers when I was with my father’s family (much bigger fans of money and Connecticut than fish) and my uncle on that side told me what he thought was a charming anecdote.  When he finished, I said, “that was pretty good, but next time you tell it you should say it happened to you and not your friend.”  When he said “But it did happen to my friend,” no one had ever uttered something so irrelevant.  I knew how to make the story better.  I was two years old.

That’s what writing is to me – crafting a beautiful lie (beautiful, really?  Give me a break I’m being artsy).  It has to have some element of human emotional truth or whoever your audience is will turn the metaphorical channel.  Anyway, back to the original question.  Why do I write?  As an acknowledged bullshitter, I thought I’d start with some of the lies writers tell.  I don’t write because I couldn’t do anything else.  I’m a bright guy, I could hold down a number of jobs.  I could run a hat shop.  I don’t love writing.  Nobody does – it’s worse than fishing.  Anyone that tells you that he loves to write has either never written anything, or, is in fact, an alien.  Throw water in his face, if he is human he’ll get embarrassed and admit he’s never written.  If he’s an alien, the water will burn his skin and kill him like in the Mel Gibson movie SIGNS. 

Now the truths.  I write because as horrible as writing is, having written something is pure pleasure.  I like that my parents have something to talk to strangers about.  I like ending the previous sentence with a preposition because I’m an artist.  I write to get laid (that cliche about actresses only sexing up directors is just that, a cliche).  I write to find love (with this one actress I thought I was writing to get laid, now nine years later I have three kids and a wife who constantly tells me to hold the wheel at “ten and two” when I drive).  I write because I honestly couldn’t do anything else, and I love to write (that’s a callback from the previous paragraph).  I write because parentheticals actually arouse me (they do).  I write for money.  I write because it makes me feel cool even though I know I’m not.  I write for revenge on everyone that ever wronged me.  Tim Stenger, you know what I’m talking about.  I write  to heal (myself, not the world – I’m not a wizard).  I write because I’m lucky;  we all know how many elements of success are beyond our control.  I write because I secretly believe luck had nothing to do with it. I write because I’m arrogant, because I’m insecure, because I’m depressed, angry, joyous, drunk, bored…  But most of all, I write because I’m full of shit.


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.

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