Why We Write

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.

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