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 firstname.lastname@example.org.