aaron sorkin on writing

December 15, 2014

 I love The Newsroom and every Aaron Sorkin TV show and movie I’ve ever seen: The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Social Network, to name a few. He is a writer’s screen-writer, never relying on special effects to add excitement to what he puts on the page.

I went with some of my writers’ group to watch a preview of Sorkin’s The Newsroom finale last week. We were hustled into a sold-out Arclight cinema in Hollywood to watch, for the last time, the characters we’d grown to love over the past three seasons: Will and Mac, Charlie, Neal, Don and Sloane, Maggie and Jim and the rest of the super-fast talking team that make up the fictional cable TV newsroom in Aaron Sorkin’s mind.

Even more than I loved hearing about the ins and outs of creating and writing The Newsroom, I got to listen to a prolific, successful writer revealing his process, his inspiration and his demons.

He wrote the first draft of A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins while bar-tending at the Palace Theater on Broadway.

He encouraged us to enjoy writing badly while we had the chance. Still in his 20’s when he sold A Few Good Men, he has been in the spotlight ever since, drawing criticism for his wordy but snappy dialogue and the perception that his characters are simply regurgitating his political views. “I wish I could fall on my face without so much consequence.”

It was nice for the less successful writers in the room (that would be all of us) to take a moment to enjoy our current mediocrity.

Sorkin claims that the nerves never really go away but that it’s always worse at the beginning of each new project. “I start out knowing nothing. I start out very frightened.”

“As soon as you’ve got an intention and an obstacle, if you’ve got an opening, you’ve got something. Sit on it. Let it build up like a pressure cooker. Then write, as fast as you can type it. I really believe that kind of energy shows up on the page. Don’t edit as you go. Sit on the beginning, then write it, crawl to the end and then go back to the beginning.”

Lessons like these are gold to me. If writing is what you want to do, try to listen to good writers speak whenever you can. It’s always helpful, it’s often free or not very expensive, and you walk away feeling like this is something you could actually do.

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