Why We Write

February 1, 2008

Why We Write – Number 35: Stephen Engel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:39 am
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Number 35

Today’s piece is written by Stephen Engel, Consulting Producer on “The Big Bang Theory” and Creator of a few shows nobody remembers.  


You might ask, “Why do I write?”  For the creative satisfaction?  Absolutely.  For the camaraderie of the writers’ room?  No doubt.  For the thrill of telling stories that entertain millions, sometimes thousands?  Without question.  But let’s be honest — the main reason why I write is the same reason why almost everybody writes — well, at least why almost every man writes: to increase the odds of getting laid.

I’m not making this up.  It’s a proven fact: being a writer helps you get women.  I’m at best a slightly above-average-looking guy; if “5” is average, I’d give me a “6”, and that’s being generous.  Back when I had a full head of hair, on good days I was occasionally told I resembled Hugh Grant.  On bad days I was told I resembled Brent Musberger; in fact, at a Halloween party in 1990 I won the prize for “Best Costume” simply by wearing a blue blazer that said “CBS Sports” on the lapel.  My wife Susanne, on the other hand, is stunningly beautiful.  She’s been told she resembles Julia Roberts, so together, on good days we vaguely looked like the one-sheet for “Notting Hill.” 

My point is, as a “6”, there’s no way I get a Julia Roberts look-alike if I’m a car salesman or a mortgage broker– especially not in this housing market.  And I’m not the only one who has reaped this undocumented WGA benefit — every male writer I know has a wife who’s better looking than he is.  Without exception.  Trust me, the late great Arthur Miller didn’t get Marilyn Monroe because of his chiseled, leading-man looks.  And all due respect to David E. Kelley, because he’s not an unattractive man, but seriously — Michelle Pfeiffer?  To quote any number of Mr. Kelley’s indelible characters, “I rest my case.”

If you’re still skeptical, you male writers out there can try this simple experiment.  Go to a party or a bar and strike up a conversation with a woman who’s more attractive than you — say, an “8” to your “6”.  When she asks you what you do, tell her you’re a lawyer, or you work at Shoe Pavilion.  Then ask her if she’d like to go to bed with you.  She will, at best, walk away in disgust and, at worst, punch you in the throat.  

Now try it again with a second attractive woman, only this time, when the woman asks what you do, tell her you’re a writer.  Unless she’s an AMPTP member, her interest will visibly kindle.  She will then ask, “What kind of writer?”  You respond, “I write for television and movies.”  More visible interest as she inches a little closer and says, “Wow.  Have you written anything I might have seen?”  Next, list your credits, or if necessary, embellish them.  (For example: “I’ve got a movie project in development at Universal.”  Translation: “I turned the script in two years ago and still haven’t gotten notes yet.”)  Congratulations!  Your chances of getting laid have just skyrocketed… unless you’re at a party with a bunch of actors, directors or hedge fund managers.  For that reason, this technique works best somewhere other than Los Angeles or Greenwich, Connecticut.

Bottom line, that’s the real reason why men write.  (In fact, that’s the real reason why men pursue any modicum of achievement whatsoever.)  Why women write I can’t say, because all a woman needs to do to get laid is ask a man if he’d like to go to bed with her.  She will, at best, have sex and, at worst, make a new gay male friend.  

Anyway, now that I’m married, I don’t have to write to get laid anymore.  My wife has to fool around with me; it’s her conjugal burden.  So you might ask, why do I continue to write?  Excellent question.  Mostly, I continue to write to avoid having to practice law.

A bit of back story: right after college, I went to law school.  I’m not sure exactly why anymore, but I think it was a combination of two reasons: (1) I wasn’t sure what else to do, and (2) I thought it might increase my odds of getting laid.  I quickly discovered that law school was not for me, and while it did improve my odds of getting laid to slightly better than if I were a homeless person, that hardly seemed enough reason to suffer through being a lawyer.

To make a long story short, I started writing a screenplay during law school with my buddy Rob Burnett (of AMPTP-defying, fair-deal-making Worldwide Pants fame).  Eventually both law school and the screenplay were completed, and days before I started working at a law firm in Manhattan, Rob and I got hired to write a movie.  A year later, we got hired to write another movie.  (We still haven’t gotten notes on it.)  After three stressful years of writing and practicing law, I quit the law job and started writing full-time on my own.  Soon thereafter, I moved to L.A. to write for the HBO comedy “Dream On”, and I haven’t thought about practicing law again since.  Well, at least not consciously.  

Subconsciously, I think about practicing law all the time.  Whenever I’m feeling insecure about my writing — which is pretty much all the time — I always have the same nightmare.  I dream that I’m back working at my old law firm, and I’m miserable.  (I wish my dreams had more subtext, but sadly they mean exactly what they appear to mean.  Perhaps my subconscious should take Robert McKee’s writing seminar.)  But the worst part of the dream isn’t the soul-deadening nature of the legal work, or the suffocating feeling — literally and figuratively — of having to wear a tie again.  The worst part is that I’m not writing anymore.  No more creative satisfaction; no more camaraderie of the writers’ room; no more thrill of telling stories that entertaining thousands, and sometimes even hundreds; and most of all, no more chance of getting laid.  Seriously, in my dream even my wife rejects me, and personally, I can’t blame her.  I’m much less engaging, and much less engaged, when I’m not writing.  And to top it off, I’m still bald in the dream.  Talk about a nightmare.

So despite the constant pangs of insecurity, I continue to write, and I continue to enjoy every minute of it, except for the actual writing part.  That part’s a bitch.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to sleep and finish drafting a grantor retained annuity trust agreement; it was due in last night’s dream.


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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