Why We Write

February 12, 2008

Why We Write – Number 45: Thania St. John

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 8:52 am
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Number 45

Today’s piece is written by Thania St. John, Co-Editor of WHY WE WRITE and Executive Producer of “Eureka.”  Thania is returning for her 20th season of hour-long drama, pending today’s vote.

 

Thank you.  For reading.  For writing.  For inspiring.  For supporting.  Why We Write became what we hoped it would because of all of you.  Selfishly, it helped me through a very confusing time.  It gave my day structure and purpose.  It gave me a reason to talk to Charlie every day and map out a plan and argue over who’s right (okay, grammar is not my forte) and make each other laugh, just like we do in the writer’s room.  And every time I’d read a new essay by someone who took the time to share their very personal thoughts, I became awed by the emotion and the spirit and the fortitude of people who were previously just a name on the screen to me.  

You got the pleasure of reading their essays, I got the pleasure of reading their e-mails.  Each writer who contributed to this project did so with such excitement, such enthusiasm.  Sure, there were the usual insecure caveats that most of us express before we put ourselves out there for the world to read.  But there was also a sense of joy, of relief, of genuine thanks for providing an unusual outlet for their words.  And from the very start, I knew we had tapped into something special. 

Writers usually have the luxury of hiding behind characters to express their inner thoughts and feelings.  But here, there was no such safety net.  These essays expressed some deeply private moments, not only about writing but about life.  And experience.  I have so much more respect for every writer’s personal journey toward their goal after reading some of these stories.  Solitude, puppets, suicidal thoughts – laughter, gym class, getting laid.  We’ve all been through something to get here.  I applaud every writer who shared themselves with others on this site.  And every reader who encouraged them with their comments. 

I’ve learned a lot during these past three and a half months, about my Guild, my colleagues and myself.  When I first started in this business, I used to say I wrote because it was the easiest way to get “above the line.”  Then it was because it was lucrative.  After I had kids, it was doable way to be in show business without having to keep set hours (joke was on me, writing is 24/7.)  And as I moved up the ladder, it became the best way to keep “control” of my work (joke on me, again.)   But after these few months of taking stock and really thinking about what I do and what it means, to me and to others, I’ve realized something important.  And something that will give my life and work a new sense of purpose from now on. 

I write because I have something to say.

Sometimes it’s something funny, sometimes it’s something sad.  Sometimes it’s something serious and sometimes it’s something not very good.  But it always starts with a point of view.  An observation on life, on people, on how we treat each other.  In the writer’s room I call it the theme.  What are we trying to say with this story?  Once we figure that out, we can put our characters in interesting places, give them guns and fast cars and nuclear devices, make them kiss and kill, give them funny catch phrases and watch them struggle through the labyrinth we’ve created for them.  But if there wasn’t a reason to tell the story to begin with, all the fancy eye candy in the world isn’t going to make someone feel something when it’s over. 

I have something to say.  So does every other writer, whether they realize it yet or not.  It actually feels good to admit it.  And if walking around in circles, trying to get powerful people in towers to listen to us allowed me that epiphany, then it was all worthwhile. 

 

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 during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  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.

February 10, 2008

Why We Write – Number 43: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 3:36 pm
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Number 44

Today’s piece is written by Terri Edna Miller, Independent Filmmaker, member of the Guild since 1994.

 

I love writing, I hate writing. I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it.  It’s too hard, it’s a kick.  I go to extremes to avoid it, from cleaning the oven to scooping the dog poop from the back yard.  Writing is a non-contagious congenital malady.  I wrote my first story when I was seven.  It was called Pilford the Penny and if you want to read it, I’ll send you a copy.  The one-line is that Pilford goes on adventures from the time he leaves the mint to the time he becomes a part of someone’s beloved collection.  Nobody made me write it.  I did it for fun.  For FUN!  My mother and father were worried about me because I wasn’t outside playing or inside watching TV.  I was alone in my room with a pen and a spiral notebook making up a story about the adventures of a penny.  If I did that today, would I be medicated

I don’t know why I wrote.  I do know that it wasn’t a choice.  When I went to my Summer Camp, I was the one who ran the camp paper, wrote the crossword puzzles and wrote all the prayers for services… even when it wasn’t my turn, I traded writing against getting my ass kicked by the bigger girls when it was their turn to put dreaded pen to dreaded page.

I’ve gone through periods of time when my writing has been very successful.  I’ve won awards for it, supported my children with it and paid the cover charge to be able to enter the Karaoke club to sing “I Will Survive” with it.  I met my husband because of it.  I’ve lived out several of my fantasy life scenarios because of it.  It’s given me my highest highs and lowest lows.

I’ve had lackluster times in my writing career, times when I thought that I must be the most untalented hack in the English speaking world.  It’s always the same routine.  I tell myself I’ll never do it again, then something awakens my imagination and it’s like a tick burrowing into my consciousness.  The only way to get rid of it is to burn it onto the page and find a way to tell that story to whoever will gather round the campfire and listen.

 

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 during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  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.

February 9, 2008

Why We Write – Number 43: Compilation Day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 9:18 am
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Number 43

Today’s piece is a sampling of some less traditional submissions we’ve received.  We’ve gotten everything you can imagine and then some: poems, single sentences, top ten lists, you name it.  Here are just a few you might find inspiring. 

 

 WHY I WRITE:

 

My Dad wanted me to go into the heating and air conditioning business.

— Tom Flynn

 

For the money.  

— Gordon Whitey Mitchell 

 

 

THE TOP TEN REASONS I WRITE, by Dani Shear:

I write because if I didn’t, I’d end up having to interact with my husband and that could be disastrous for our marriage.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d have no excuse to go to Peets everyday.  Need I say more?

I write because if I didn’t, I’d end up stripping (or is it the other way around??)

I write because if I didn’t,  I’d have to give the gardener my “Writer’s Guild On Strike” extra large tee and then what the hell would I wear?

I write because if I didn’t, I’d have to learn to play the guitar, and that would really suck because I can’t get my hands to twist around those damn strings.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d have to play “Cinderella” to my 4 year old’s “Sleeping Beauty” more than I already do, and I’d end up putting a gun to either my head, or to Mr. Disney’s cryogenically frozen one.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d have to go back to acting, do the cayenne pepper/lemonade diet, get my first dose of botox and wait by the phone.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d end up watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or that new mother/daughter reality show “Crowned”, and shot putting Dora’s Talking House through the flat screen.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d have my dignity back, and what fun is there in that???

If I didn’t write, I’d die.  Fade to White.

That’s why I write.  

 

 

I write because when I was a little kid, whenever it rained, my dad would go stand in the garage with the door rolled open and smoke Pall Mall cigarettes, drink beer, and silently watch it.  I would sit on the warm radiator by the kitchen window and silently watch him, imagining what he was thinking about.

— Matt Berry, Co-Executive Producer, “Desperate Housewives.”

 

 

As an indie filmmaker, I don’t have the budget for an entire essay.  So here, in four sentences, is the reason why I write:

Often I am overcome with passion for all things, yet this yields an odd loneliness, as few people have such excessive feelings.  But if I put them into words, somebody, somewhere, may find them familiar.  Knowing this, I am no longer alone.  Nor, I expect, are they.

— Stevie Long

 

 

Like you TV People, I write for humans through machines. 

I write because of an unshakable habit of being.— Ross Kerr

 

 

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.

 

 

February 8, 2008

Why We Write – Number 42: Nick Wauters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 8:33 am
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Number 42

Today’s piece is written by Nick Wauters, Staff Writer on “Eureka.”

 

Why do I write?  I guess I’ve never really thought it was a choice.  This is just the way I’ve been for as far back as I can remember.  Already as a kid, I could tell I was different.  I didn’t really know how, or what it meant, but as my parents will still tell me today, they always knew I was… “special” (sic.)  Many times, I have asked myself why this?  Why me?  Why did I have to be different?  Life could have been so much easier if I’d grown up to be… say, a waffle maker (no offense to waffle makers, and yes there’s a pay-off later). But the truth is, my head has always been filled with ideas, and for better or worse, I’ve never really been good at keeping my imagination to myself.

As a boy growing up in Belgium (Belgium… waffle maker… get it?), I was fascinated by film, television, theater, novels, comic books — anything that involved the imagination.  Sure, it got me beat up more than once by the jocks and bullies who loved picking on the faggy and geeky (yes, double-whammy) writer kid, but I didn’t care.  This was who I was.

I remember writing plays and musicals that I would then perform in front of my unwilling family trapped in our living room.  Throughout middle school, my productions would bring school operations to a halt.  Literally.  I guess I just assumed that everyone — classmates, teachers and custodians — had the same urge I had to see my material come to life.

I would often lock myself up in my room for hours, typing away on an old typewriter, writing entire seasons of shows I created — sitcoms, dramas, soaps, which I would then force my mother to read as soon as I’d finished typing the words “the end.”  I would then sit and watch intently, trying to gauge her every reaction as she made her way through the pages.

I eventually decided it was time for me to make my Hollywood dream come true (again, I just assumed everyone was born with a Hollywood dream.)  Being a Hollywood writer was the only thing I could imagine doing, and my parents were kind enough not to discourage me.  They probably assumed it was just a phase.

So I started sending out some of my scripts.  Using a French-English dictionary, I painstakingly wrote a cover letter explaining to Brandon Tartikoff that I would be honored to write for a network with such dedication to high-quality programming, and that if he would just have my scripts translated into English, he would see how great they were.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  But give me a break, I was thirteen and I had a dream.

After getting no response from Hollywood, I decided it would probably be a good thing for me to learn English.  Maybe NBC didn’t have the time or resources to get my scripts translated after all.  So I started watching TV shows on the BBC to complement my English classes, and that’s how I started picking up English.

I clunkily translated a couple of my pilot scripts and sent them to Warren Littlefield and his counterparts at the other networks along with a resume listing every play and school show I’d ever put together in my “career.”  I knew Hollywood was waiting for me. 

And this time, I finally got a response.  It was a very nice and short letter from “Beverly” in the HR department telling me NBC could not accept unsolicited material, but that they reviewed my resume and that although there were no openings at the time, they would keep it on file for the next six months should anything open up.  Sure, I thought it was a bit suspicious that all the responses I got from the other networks said exactly the same thing, but that was just a minor detail.  I just had to be patient and wait 6 months, right?

Many years and twists of fate later, as I walk around in circles and chant in my red shirt in beautiful downtown Burbank, I can’t help but look back and wonder how the hell I actually made it here.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always believed that somehow the rules of storytelling also applied to my own life, that whatever obstacles were thrown in my way, I would always prevail and eventually get my happy ending in the third act.  Maybe it’s because I never stopped dreaming, never stopped imagining.  Maybe it’s because part of me never grew up and established permanent residence in Never-Never Land. 

Writing is not just something I do.  It’s what I am.  I’m not saying I’m good at it (I wouldn’t be a writer without having insecurities), but that is who I am.  And although I am one of the lucky few who get to make a living out of it, I know that wherever my professional life takes me and whether or not I get paid for it, I will never stop writing, because I need to get that stuff out of my head.

And 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 whywewrite@gmail.com.

February 7, 2008

Why We Write – Number 41: Skye Dent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:34 am
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Number 41

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.” 

Mommmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!

  

 

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.

February 6, 2008

Why We Write – Number 40: Mary Elena Rodriguez

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:50 am
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Number 40

Today’s piece is written by Maria Elena Rodriguez, writer on the Showtime series “Resurrection Blvd” and the NBC mini “Kingpin.”

 

I write because I can’t procrastinate any more.

Like many other Type A people, I operated on the periphery of the writing for years.   It’s easy to do.   Certain jobs exercise some of the same muscles. Some writers become lawyers and read and write all day.  Some become execs and give notes. Some are agents who sell writers.   Others teach writing.   I was a production manager and line producer.  I helped other people’s scripts make their air and release dates.

The truth is, I was always writing.  From the time of my first literary sale  (a poem) at age 14, I knew I was going to be a writer.  I just had to get ready for it.   My method of study was a circuitous, productive but procrastinating one:  I took everything in college except writing so that I would have something to write about.   This included stints in the sciences, econ, pre-law, post-Marxist Structuralist semiotics, the Great Books in foreign languages, and a year abroad in Paris when the universities went on strike.  As a working-class kid, I was lucky to trade up from “day jobs” of waiting tables to running the office for an Anthro prof and his grad students.  I made extra bucks typing dissertations.  There I was operating on the periphery of great thinkers.  Between my own term papers and theirs, I wrote Monty Python-like sketches spoofing the egghead, esoteric world.   I wasn’t going to be a scholar but I was going to write like one.   I graduated Berkeley with a degree that now makes supreme sense:  Comparative Literature.

After a round of post-graduate “day jobs” in journalism, advertising, law firms, think tanks, I went to film school not in screenwriting but in film production.  My eclectic student films (a documentary about an ex-Commie facing deportation, CGI shorts, an animated film about Catholic School) were definitely “writerly.”   I graduated with an emphasis in animation at a time when the animation industry was at a low ebb.  A few years later, I would get a job production managing the animation crew of “The Simpsons,” the first animated series since “Rocky and Bullwinkle” to be based on writing rather than drawing (no disrespect to its artists).

For the next ten years I continued to write while working at various cartoon and computer animation studios.  I was always a member of a writers’ group and even won scholarships to the AFI TV Writers Workshop.  I always had a spec screenplay that needed a polish, or a half-finished novel or a play waiting for its second act.  My 12 hour days were spent writing budgets, schedules, deal memos, faxes and thousands of emails.  Then one day I woke up in a production job at a huge animation house and looked at our pipeline.  There was one mediocre feature after another, all distinguished by weak writing.  (Not the writer’s fault, it turns out.)  The fact that I could recognize this shook me up.  I couldn’t do anything about those films.  But I could finally become a writer.

That was a turning point in my life.  No more procrastinating.  This is why I write every day now.   For pay or for pleasure, it’s a righteous gig.

 

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.

February 5, 2008

Why We Write – Number 39: Cathryn Humphris

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:37 am
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Number 39

Today’s piece is written by Cathryn Humphris, who was a Story Editor on “Supernatural.”  Now she’s a professional picketer. 

 

To hear my family tell it, my love of storytelling became apparent at an early age.  My Grandma remembers me at two years old, holding up a book and calling her over to “come hear me read!” Skeptical, she listened as I proceeded to babble through a complicated narrative.  When I put the book down, she reached for it, amazed at her tiny granddaughter’s skill.  It was then that she discovered I’d been holding the book upside down.  I’d made the entire thing up.  And my Grandma knew, right then, what it would take me years to figure out:  I was a writer.  It was in my blood, and my soul, and no matter how hard I tried to fight it, it was all I was ever really cut out to do.  

My mother, mostly as a way to keep an over-active toddler out of her hair, taught me to actually read when I was four.  I fell in love with books quickly.  I would find a quiet corner of our house and sit for hours, devouring story after story, lost inside my own head.  In elementary school, my teachers noticed my passion, and they introduced me to a wide array of new books.  One day, my second grade teacher handed me the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever met me that I was hooked immediately.  The books had everything I loved:  compelling stories, full of twists and turns; dramatic settings; and most of all, a plucky heroine who was smarter and faster than all the boys.  I devoured Laura’s stories, and I immersed myself in her world, often dressing up as her, carrying my lunch to school in a tin can just like she had (you’d think I was completely friendless, right?  Luckily I was good at kickball, which was enough to keep the boys in my class interested in me.  That changed upon puberty; my athletic prowess flew out the window overnight.  Thankfully, by then I knew enough to shun the costumes, at least in public).  Back then, I thought life was pretty good – lots of books to read, trees to climb, and boys to chase.  But then a truly amazing thing happened.  I discovered a television show called “Little House on the Prairie.”  It was based on the books I so loved, and it actually brought all my favorite characters alive on screen right in front of me!!  This was an astounding discovery; I could come home everyday, grab a snack, and plant myself in the living room, where I could watch the adventures of Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma, and Pa embodied by living people.  The beautiful pictures inside my head were now outside, for the whole world to see!  I was blown away, I couldn’t get enough – and I knew, deep down, that I had to be a part of this.

It took years for me to discover how it all fit together (someone writes this stuff besides Laura Ingalls Wilder?  How does that happen?  And will I still get to dress up if I’m the writer?).  In the meantime, I wrote, in any medium I could – short stories, newspaper articles, even the occasional poem or song (thankfully all lost long ago).  I had another epiphany in junior high, after a friend and I snuck into in an R-rated movie.  Afterward, instead of reveling in the gore and violence and explicit sex we’d just witnessed, we spent hours discussing the story.  Why was that clue revealed so early on? Why was the supporting character’s storyline suddenly dropped?  And what the hell motivated the villain to do that stuff anyway?   I couldn’t stop re-thinking the movie.  I was just as obsessed with television, which I watched hungrily, running the gamut from Moonlighting to LA Law to Knots Landing.  All week I would wonder about the shows – what would Maddie and Dave bicker about this week?  What case would Sifuentes take on?  After the episodes aired, I would find myself dreaming about the characters.  New plotlines, romances, and complications developed unbidden inside my head with increasing frequency.  (To this day, I know I’ve really cracked a script when I start dreaming about it.)

Like so many other writers, I belong in the camp of people who hate writing.  I hate it with a passion… the endless hours spent trapped in a room alone, terrified that this time nothing’s gonna come, or that what does come will completely suck.  I often wonder why I ever thought it would be a good idea to write for a living.  I wish I could do something else – make widgets, or file papers, anything that would guarantee a concrete payoff.  Instead, I sit, for hours on end, and I stare into the corners of myself and face down my darkest demons.  It makes me completely miserable.  Unfortunately, for me, the only thing worse than writing is not writing.  Because then I never get past the sitting, the staring, the terrifying blank page, past myself, to the place where I can hear my characters.  Slowly, softly, they start talking… and then they start walking, and interacting, and heading off on yet another amazing journey.  And suddenly I’m typing so fast that it’s all I can do to keep up with them, and I’m loathe to move a muscle because I might miss something.  Finally I’ll have to take a break, and I’ll look at the clock and realize the entire day has passed, and I have something down on paper.  Something that’s half-finished and maybe no good at all, something that will require all kinds of editing, and I’m already dreading the prospect of sitting back down again and facing all my same fears tomorrow.  But I’m also deeply, reverently satisfied, because I know that I’m one step closer to bringing the characters and stories that keep showing up in my head out into the world.  To me, it’s always felt like that’s where they belong.  And so, despite my hatred of the process, despite my fears, despite the fact that I rarely get to wear a costume, I’ll sit back down again tomorrow (or perhaps the day after, if that’s all I can muster) and try again to serve my characters, to tell their stories, to share them with anyone who will listen.  Because I love them.  I love getting lost in them.  And I’m convinced the rest of the world feels the exact same way.

 

 

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.

February 4, 2008

Why We Write – Number 38: Tim Griffin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:24 am
Tags: ,

Number 38

Today’s piece is written by Tim Griffin, Staff Writer on Season 3 of “Entourage.”

 

Why do I write?  It’s a good question.  A great question, actually.  Because as has been said many times by countless writers, writing is a gut-wrenching, brutal endeavor.  If you’re truly doing it right then it takes a toll.  After I’ve written something — something I’ve meant — I feel completely depleted.  I don’t mind, though, because if I’m feeling that way it’s likely the audience is feeling fuller.  The exchange, while lopsided, makes me happy, gives me a sense of accomplishment.  On the downside, my cocktail conversation suffers.  All the good thoughts, insights, observations and jokes are on the page.  Engage me at a shindig and I’m likely to be a real dud.  Not that I’m Mr. Gregarious anyway.  Still, try explaining to a stranger over cocktail weenies that your banter skills are on empty because you’ve been siphoned out by your day job… Seriously, try.  Or cough up this chestnut on a date when your witty repartee isn’t exactly singing ‘Girl Friday’ style. 

There are other reasons I write.  I like making people laugh.  Is there anything better?  Sunsets, newborn babies, and Picassos are all great but getting someone to chuckle is a religious experience, one I try to duplicate over and over — and not always in the proper contexts.  Honestly, though, would you rather see a sunset or hear a good joke?  It’s hands-down the latter for me.  And, frankly, who’s forgiven more sins than the individual who can make others laugh?  A good message for kids; become a lovable cut-up and people will tend to overlook some of your more glaring character flaws and even better, pay you handsomely for it.  Stay in school, kids!

Character flaws… that leads me to another reason I write.  Therapy can only make so much sense of one’s internal thicket.  Personal demons aren’t easily wrestled into submission.  That’s where writing comes in.  It’s a pretty tidy little cathartic trick to dump your thoughts and feelings onto the page.  Even better, it’s not $200 bucks for 50 minutes.  Come to think of it, I’ve had all my major breakthroughs writing, not on the couch – time to make a phone call, do some cost-cutting. 

Writing also manages to tell me what I think.  A fickle fellow I am, but writing gives me conviction, tells me where I stand on things.  This is good information to have, because occasionally people ask my opinion; it’s nice to have one. 

Other less substantial reasons I write:

1)    It goes good with coffee. 

2)    When you tell people it’s what you do it simultaneously intrigues and arouses suspicion.  There’s a cool factor there.  

3)    It doesn’t involve digging or operating a fryer.

4)    It’s indoors and the outside world frightens me.

5)    You don’t have to wear pants.

6)    TV jobs generally allow you to wake up late; that alone is enough to justify any vocation.

 

The better question than ‘why I write’ is ‘how I came to write in this town?’  And the truth is God led me here.  That’s right.  I was a senior at a Catholic university and had no clue about what I wanted to do with my life.  Sales, broadcasting, vagrancy, it all held about the same appeal.  Then I took a screenwriting class taught by a nun.  Based on the religious romp I wrote about some bumbling horsemen of the apocalypse she encouraged me to pitch tent in this devil town.  So with no better ideas and a feeling that I had some kind of divine backing I made the move to LA.  All these years later and I’m still here… gutting myself at the computer with God as my wingman — and I’m not even religious.  Who’s the joke really on?

 

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.

February 3, 2008

Why We Write – Number 37: Reader Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , ,

Number 37

Today’s piece is written by Amrie Cunningham, senior editor for www.thetvaddict.com and weekly columnist for www.seat42f.com.

 

Why do I write?  To answer that question is like trying to explain why the sky is blue to a four-year-old, or why my mother can’t pronounce the word voyage correctly.  It just is, she just can’t, I just do.  But the point of the essay is to try to define it with more of answer than “I just do,” so here we go.

When I was 4, I had an invisible friend.  And she had an invisible brother and two invisible parents.  They were my invisible family of friends – Fred, Lynn and their kids Rachel and Phillip.  Their last name was Spider, and retrospectively, I’m pretty sure I was a creepy 2 year old kid who not only created four invisible talking friends, but who created invisible talking spider-shaped friends.  The Spiders and I had a great friendship.  We explored the mean streets of Lansdale.  We rode horses together, and played Barbies on my front porch.  They accompanied me to the doctor, and to the pool, and just about everywhere imaginable.  I had a story for every minute of the day.  My mom, slightly taken aback by my creation of arachnid related fairy-tales, asked the Spiders to move out and into the 4th Street Pool, where they would be more comfortable.  The Spiders, and I, bought it, and they headed to the pool. 

I spent the year of my life creating stories about the times I spent with the Spider family.  I wondered what life was like for them at their new home, the 4th Street Pool, and I imagined they had great times without me.  They had accepted me as their friend and I missed them.  In their absence, I started reading, started imagining the characters of the books as my friends.  Now at the ripe old age of 5, I was ready to put pen to paper, to create a world of characters who would stay my friends.  I wrote a story about what would happen if the Wolf had defeated the Three Little Pigs; there was a character named Anna Marie who helped the wolf.  It was four pages long and it was awesome.  I wrote a variation on the fabulous book Stone Soup, featuring a character named Anna who, quite shockingly, stirred the Stone Soup.  I had pages upon pages of elementary school, gigantic-ruled paper filled with stories about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.

By 8, I was a published author.  If you took a journey to the Hatfield Elementary School library, there you’d find my fabulous books on princesses and pigs and, I believe, Nancy Drew.  A writer was born and there was no turning back.  I joined the drama club at 12, and threw my own lines into plays even when they didn’t work.  To me, it was all about trying to find that moment where it could.  When it worked, it made me happy.  Throw a Southern accent on that character; it’ll make you sound funnier.  Throw a laugh in after that horrible line; it’ll make her more believable as a court jester.  And you know what, it did.  By the time I graduated high school, I had almost 30 journals filled with story ideas.  The main character was always Anna or Annamarie or Amrie, or something that didn’t stray far from my name, because in my stories, I was awesome.  I was the person everyone wanted as their friend.  My characters accepted me.

Don’t think it was just books that kept me writing.  I would watch an episode of Full House and in my head, would write myself into a scene.  When Stephanie loved Brett, I did, too.  I was the second Tanner kid in most of my stories and Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky were my friends.  I wrote a sequel to The Mighty Ducks before D2 was even on the landscape, where my character, named, surprisingly, Annamarie, was a new girl at school who did karaoke with the Ducks and was accepted on the team.  It kept on that track for the longest time, until I became the self-proclaimed TV Addict that I am.  I watch a ridiculous amount of TV each week, trying to understand the tone of each show, trying to see why a writer did something with his words that I might not have thought of doing.  I print scripts and I study scripts and I meet as many writers as possible, with a goal to one day count myself as their equal.

I began telling people at a young age that I wanted to be a writer.  A friend of my mother’s told me that no one would believe me if I simply wanted to be something.  I had to say that I was already something, I had accomplished something.  He asked me if I write.  I explained that obviously I write.  He said, “Then you don’t want to be a writer, you already are a writer.”  And I haven’t looked back. 

Why do I write?  Because the Spiders were amazing friends, because I just do, and I can’t imagine life if I didn’t.

 

 

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.

February 2, 2008

Why We Write – Number 36: Courtney Bulger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 9:30 am
Tags: , ,

Number 36

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 whywewrite@gmail.com.

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