My near life-long ambition to work as a sitcom writer, an ambition I recognize at the ripe old age of 46 is even significantly less likely than it was twenty years ago, still seems an occupation with which I would like to be connected. In a subsequent column I will, perhaps, unload the secrets of one of my series ideas. The modern sitcom workplace is one quite different than how I always envisioned myself working within it.
In a way, it's an experience I'm living through on my most recent writing pursuit. Today's sitcomms are no longer, if they ever really were, written by the lone individual, sitting at the typewriter...err...word processor...uhm...iPad....creating the assigned episode for production deadline.
They're written in teams.
In a nutshell, the average show has a showrunner who develops the major story idea, then assigns the breaking down of the story to a team of writers - and those teams can range from a handful to a gaggle - who, more or less collaboratively put together the week's episode. Sounds like a dream, right?
Except when one considers the fact that for the most part, writing is traditionally a fairly solitary endeavour. If the purpose is to get one's ideas, feelings, constructs out onto the page, how does one do that by first going through the some sort of filter with another writer - or multiple other writers?
I confess to having very little experience in this particular variant of the field. There have been a couple of times when, by necessity, I have undertaken such a venture and generally they have been related to television. Many years ago (you know you're getting older when you can use that expression in reference to having done anything besides just simply exisiting), I worked on a sketch comedy show that aired locally and, blessedly, appears to have been lost in the actual video tape world, not making it to YouTube [link]. As I recall, it was primarily acheived by a bunch of comics and actors with little writing experience, sitting around a room trying to make each laugh and then someone remembering to try to write some of it down.
Small wonder it was not the vehicle that would propel any of the participants to stardom (though a couple of them rode other buses to relative fame and good fortune).
Another experience had me work as both writer and performer of comedic yet educational sketches for a pseduo-therapeutic program focused on sex education. Beyond those tasks my other principal role seemed to be the voice trying to convince the program's host and producer that "I'm pretty sure you can't say that on television, even if it is cable."
Working on our non-fiction book - with an admittedly self-imposed deadline looming - has been an unusual challenge for me. Instead of writing in the room, as is often done on creative projects, my writing partners and I have instead assigned ourselves sections of the project to write in isolation - a more typical writerly process, to be sure - which we will then assemble together into a finished project that hopefully won't look to anyone who reads it to be three different books cobbled together under one cover.
It's going well in the sense that we all seem to be on the same page thematically and share enthusiasm for the subject matter and the need that we are filling for our potential readers. But right now it certainly appears to be a book written by three separate people sharing the same cover. Finding a common voice with which we all write is proving to be, for me, at least, one of the more significant challenges in the initial editing process.
On the plus side, having commited partners - and having a commitment to the partners - can be a significant driving force towards getting the writing done with only lower degrees of procrastination than I often employ in working towards the completion of W3.doc. Of course I'm hoping the forward momentum on one writing project will help to chip away at the writing block that continues to get in my way.
Next week: Adventures in the freelance feature trade.