Today’s piece is written by Howard Gordon, Executive Producer of 24.
I remember being in a writers’ room a few years ago, and someone – a brilliant and famous writer whose name I’ll keep to myself for now – rhapsodized about the exquisite ecstasy of the writing process. “Don’t you love it when you get lost inside the story, and the characters start speaking for themselves, and you look up and realize eight hours have passed?” I nodded dumbly, and smiled. Because I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
I’ve never had that experience. Never. Me, I’m a grinder. And a second-guesser. Since I can remember, I have suffered from some undiagnosed combination of OCD and ADD which causes me to spend hours on a preposition. Which is a long-winded way to describe this simple truth: I hate writing. I really do. Even writing this short essay is excruciating. Every word weighs on me like a millstone. Every. Single. Word.
What makes the process even more excruciating is that I am my own worst critic. No one has more contempt for my work than me. So studio and network notes are usually a cakewalk. Whatever they dish out, chances are I’ve already dished out for myself and come back for seconds.
So why do I write? Because as much as I hate writing, I love having written. All the pain suddenly falls away when the dialogue turns from a bunch of words under a character name into the living voices of real people, and the plot becomes more than just a series of events, but a story worth telling. However we get there, if we’re lucky, eventually we get there. Word by word. Line by line.
I write because it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate what a privilege it is to be a member of this profession. I suppose in some way, being a writer is the buy-in that allows me to enjoy the company and respect of my fellow writers. To count so many professional writers as friends and colleagues is one of my proudest accomplishments. I may not enjoy the creative process as much as my unnamed colleague, but I’d wager my WGA pension that I get every bit as much pleasure from my final draft – which only makes me want to belly up to the laptop and do it all over again.
Installment #3 of WHY WE WRITE is a series of short essays by prominent television and film writers and conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John. (Contact them at [email protected]). I have asked the AMPTP to give me original content expressing its side of the current strike, but the group has declined to date.