Why I Write

“Why I Write,” by Lawrence Konner

Excerpt from Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran for Penguin Group, published 2013

1920_underwood_5_typewriter-300x291Most screenwriters like watching movies more than I do.

For me, it’s never an unalloyed pleasure. If the movie is any good – and sometimes, even when it isn’t – my desire to have been part of the making of it overwhelms any possibility of simply enjoying the thing.

This was the case even when I was a kid. My friends and I went every Saturday afternoon to the same theater. We went regardless of what was showing, even if it meant seeing Demetrius and the Gladiators for eighth week running.

While the boys around me lost themselves in cop and cowboy fantasies (gladiators were harder to fantasize about – they wore skirts), I was resentful. I wanted to be part of the show, not part of the audience. I suspected even then that it was better to be working at the carnival than to be one of the rubes lining up to get in.

Screenwriting is a business tough enough to steamroll any child’s aspiration into pavement. Samuel Goldwyn once famously called screenwriters ” schmucks with Underwoods,” and many producers and directors continue to think of us as not much more than schmucks with laptops. Many of us are, to be sure, well-paid schmucks, but most of us feel our contribution is undervalued and misunderstood.

“There is a power attached to screenwriting”

Despite this, it turns out that I was right to want in. There is a power attached to screenwriting—a power I discovered in the first weeks of my first job as a staff writer on a television drama:

The producer called late one night: a new scene needed to be written for the next day’s shooting. I had the not particularly original idea of setting it during a rainstorm. I began by typing the words… EXT. SMITH HOUSE – DAY – RAIN. The studio messenger picked up the pages at 3 AM.; I slept for several hours, then drove to the set…

fake-rain-300x300The crew was deep into preparations to make the weather I had ordered. Rain machines had been brought in, streets were being washed down. Thousands of dollars were being spent, hundreds of man-hours expended. My megalomania was aroused. I thought, Perhaps next time I’ll write – SNOW.

The poet said, “Only God can make me type.” The poet lied. A screenwriter can also make a tree. Or a forest fire to consume that tree. Or the brave man to put out the fire. A screenwriter can make a herd of buffalo, or cause the city of Buffalo to be invaded by giant tarantulas. A screenwriter can make any team he wants win the World Series. And on a good day, a lucky day, he can write a moment of human truth that makes someone in the theater sit up and say, “Yes! That’s just how it is!”