Today’s piece is written by Courtney Bulger, a writer on “All My Children.” Her blog can be found at www.biographyofbreastcancer.com
I never thought of being a writer. When I was young and blissfully ignorant, I thought I was going to be a star on Broadway. After all, I did have the lead in the high school production of “Oklahoma!” I attended college and found that acting wasn’t nearly as interesting as being in charge. Besides, I wanted to eat cheeseburgers and I didn’t want to spend my life always looking for a job. So I did production. Then I graduated. I worked on cruise ships. I was Julie McCoy. I can call one mean game of bingo. When I moved back to the real world, it was time to be an adult. Sort of. A very wise woman said to me, “You know, I do this writing thing. You might be good at it. Why don’t you give it a try?” So I did. I worked on soap opera scenes late at night after a long day of selling cars. Yep, I sold cars. After all, my resume of ass kicker and professional partier wasn’t exactly 9-5 material.
I wrote scenes about someone coming back from the dead, someone in a coma, someone stealing someone’s baby… you know – soap opera stuff. And after each draft, I would send it off to this very smart woman who would in turn tear it to shreds. More red than my current bank account. And I’d try it again. And again. Until little by little, I got better. Good enough to show people. And not to embarrasses her. And I realized I liked it. No one even had to say these words aloud. Just the mere process… it was creative, it was challenging and it was fun as hell.
And lo and behold, the very day after I quit that job selling cars, I was offered a writing gig. My first. For real. Like they would actually pay me money to put words down on paper. And I would work from home. In my yoga pants! With episodes of 90210 on TV in the background. And for the first time since I graduated from college, I might actually be able to pay my bills.
Life has a funny way of smacking you back in your place the minute you think it’s all together. Only a few months after I joined the Writers Guild of America, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One month after my 29th birthday. Suddenly, my job was the least of my worries. Instead of worrying about deadlines and story arcs, I was worrying about chemo and radiation and… well, living. Suddenly, Erica Kane’s latest man or Kendall’s current drama were inconsequential. I had bigger fish to fry. Big huge tumor sized fish. Incidentally, the only thing I didn’t worry about was my job and insurance. The WGA picked up over two hundred grand in bills. After I had paid maybe a whopping six hundred dollars. No questions asked. It was the first time I had even had health insurance since graduating from college. My boss and my team cut me slack, gave me support and reminded me that we aren’t always the cynical bastards we say we are.
I started writing more. Not just witty dialogue and lines to pluck the heartstrings. I wrote about me. About life. Cancer. In the short time I’d been a professional writer, I’d realized the way I could communicate to my friends, my family and the world… I would write. I blogged all through my cancer treatment and beyond. What I couldn’t say aloud, I wrote. Writing allowed me to vent, to process, to be scared. And it made me laugh. Writing gave me an outlet for all the emotions I was too “tough” to say out loud. Writing was healing.
Oh, my God. I really was a writer.
And that spilled over into my “day job.” When Erica sat by Kendall’s hospital bed, I thought of my own mother, and the look on her face when I came out of my own surgery. When Greenlee talked about not having a family, it was me. Soap operas weren’t just plot and grand schemes and ridiculous twists. It was life. It was messy. It was scary. Those characters on the page – on the screen – they were more real to me than ever. It sounds cliché, but believe me, if I had an actor to read this article, it would sound good, I swear.
And I formed an allegiance to my job. My team. My union. The people who made my horrific ordeal tolerable. The people who made it possible for me to be treated and treated well. There are too many people in this world who don’t have insurance or job security or understanding headwriters. In essence, being a writer saved my life.
So that’s why I write. I will gladly make sacrifices to make sure that twenty years from now, when some other first time writer finds themselves in my position, they have health insurance to take care of them. That they have a union to protect them. And that they have the same opportunity to find themselves that I did.
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.