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Sprinting through Sorkinland

I want to live in an Aaron Sorkin world.

Not pictured: me

Not pictured: me

Not any particular world. I was a fan of Sports Night and The West Wing. I enjoy The Newsroom. And I firmly believe that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a television show.

But I don’t want to live in any of these particular worlds. I don’t want to produce sports television, cable news television, or run the world from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I don’t need all my conversations to be filled with witty banter or confusing sexual innuendo.

But what I love about those worlds is the urgency. Things are always happening and things need to get done right now and if these things don’t get done right now then the world will either stop spinning or explode into dust or wait did you kiss me what does that mean and I don’t know if I feel that way about you but Congress is about to shut down and this network is about to shut us down and she’s about to quit and he’s going to get fired and we need to keep this scandal buried and we need to expose this scandal and it all needs to happen before noon or 8pm or tomorrow or RIGHT NOW.

People either thrive in this environment or they run away, screaming. If my personal life was filled each day with the DRAMA those characters endure, I’d long ago have jumped off a bridge or moved to a fishing boat in Central America. However, as a freelance writer it is difficult to maintain the urgency. If you are working on a network TV show, then certainly there are deadlines always looming. But for those of us who are not (at the moment, of course) it is difficult to stay on track without the clock constantly ticking overhead. Projects get sidetracked by other projects, by life, by errands and chores, or by a West Wing marathon on TV. I can fool myself and say that watching and deleting 20% of my DVR catalog is being productive, but we all know it isn’t the truth.

In the two weeks leading up to the table read of my script Closure, I worked harder on the script than I had in months. The final three days were frenetic…I had to get it done. There was a deadline. And this deadline was arbitrary; no one was making me finish the script. After all, this particular project is one I want to do myself. But because I had given myself a deadline and invited people to take part in it, there was now a need for urgency. I got it done. It may not have been 100% exactly what I wanted, but it was definitely progress.

In the days following the reading I could feel myself sliding back into laziness. I spent less time at the computer and more time in front of the TV. I knew that to nip that slide in the bud, I had to take a page from the Book of Sorkin: deadlines. Right Now.

So I did. I noticed that the deadline for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference was in a week, and I had wanted to submit Little Black Boxes, the play I presented at The Actors Studio this summer. But I hadn’t done the rewrites, even though I knew sort of what I wanted to accomplish. So now was the time. Deadline! And it helped. I dove back into the script, completed revisions, and filled out the application online and submitted. In a Sorkin sense, I failed: I filed the application with nearly 48 hours left until the deadline. In Sorkin’s world Dana Whitaker or Mac would be screaming “5 seconds” as I ran down the hall with the paperwork, sweating and swearing under my breath. And again, this deadline is arbitrary. The world would not stop spinning if I didn’t submit. The laws of percentages say I won’t get accepted. But still, I took my script to a new level, and that alone is victory.

And now I’m addicted to the adrenaline high. I don’t want to slide back into a DVR-induced coma. I need another deadline. So here’s my newest goal: in addition to the other writing work I have to do (because Sorkin characters can multitask) I will finish the outline of another play I’ve been working on (and sat on for months), do the revisions on the first act, and complete the new draft. Then the next week I will send it to a director who expressed interest. The time is now.

2 thoughts on “Sprinting through Sorkinland

  1. Yes. YES!!! I feel this kind of pressure myself, and for me it’s easy to use my precious few hours of the day just having time to myself, or conversely, doing things that need to be done around the house, or for the kids, as a means for procrastination, and granted that stuff does NEED to be done, but I keep pushing my deadline because it’s arbitrary, and no one will suffer if I don’t hand in a draft, except me, of course. It’s just me, putting me on hold. How long do I want to do that?

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