Every writer has doubts. Some mild, some nagging, and for me in one case – crippling. This might surprise you since I seem fairly prolific – banging out a new post every day (a few even decent). And my list of credits is rather lengthy (more than you know -- imdb doesn’t even include our classic BRAM & ALICE). But there was one point in my career when I seriously thought I was done. The well had run dry. It was fun while it lasted. That’s all she wrote (actually “he”).
was 1986. My partner David Isaacs and I had created and produced MARY,
the comeback series for Mary Tyler Moore (actually comeback two of
four). It was an exhausting, grueling experience. The specifics are
for another post. But suffice it to say a typical day was writing from
10 AM to 5 AM, getting two hours of sleep, and heading back to the
office to repeat the process. Yes, I’m exaggerating; there was one
night we finished at 4.
But after six months of that, when we finally completed the order, we were completely fried.
I had lost 35 pounds. I couldn’t write a grocery list much less a script. David wasn’t much better.
decided to just take time off. “How much time?” our agent wondered.
We didn’t know. Maybe a few months. Maybe a year. Maybe forever. We
were that burned out.
the next few weeks I just sort wandered around in a haze, eating
stuffed potatoes in malls just to get my weight back up above Nicole
Richie’s. Usually ideas for pilots or movies will pop into my head
when I’m just out doing something else. But now – nothing.
seriously started contemplating what I could do besides writing to make a
living? That’s what drove me to the upper deck of Dodger Stadium to
try to learn baseball broadcasting. Drawing caricatures on the Redondo
Pier was another option I was seriously exploring. Not a lot of money
there but no pressure – just drawing big ears all day.
about three months we got a call from the Charles Brothers. They had an
idea for a CHEERS story and wondered if we’d like to write the script.
We were still gun shy but our agent implored us to give it a try.
we met with the brothers, the story fell into place rather easily. So
easily that it became a two-parter. Normally when that happens you’re
thrilled. Double the script, double the fee. To us it just meant
extra pressure. But we forced smiles throughout the story conferences.
We didn’t want them to surmise they were giving an assignment to two
The way David and I write scripts is we dictate them to a writers’ assistant (once upon a time called a secretary).
Since we weren’t working on a show we asked if we could use one of
the CHEERS writers’ assistants. They said sure and we could use Les
We planned to begin the script on Monday
morning. Driving to Paramount I was literally sweating. Could I do
this again? How embarrassing would it be if David and I just stared at
each other for eight hours while a writers’ assistant sat there
wondering “what the fuck?!”
If that happened I was prepared to go back to the Charles Brothers and
say, “You know what? We just can’t do it. But can I draw you?"
We convened at 10, our assistant Barry introduced himself and got out the steno pad.
This was it.
was so afraid of prolonged deadly silence that I just started pitching.
And somehow, amazingly, my mind began to work again. Some jokes were
coming out. Same thing for David. One or two of them even keepers!
Slowly we got back into a rhythm and things picked up.
begin to tell you the relief. Not to compare myself to the Man of Steel
but it was like Superman when Lois got rid of the Kryptonite. I could
feel my comedic powers returning. By lunch I knew – “We were BACK!”
This gift (and it is indeed a gift)
was there all the time. You don’t just lose it. You may need to step
away, take some time and recharge your batteries, but your ability
doesn’t desert you. You may someday face a crisis like this
yourself. The real lesson here is to just relax. Don’t lose your
confidence. Just roll with it knowing in time you will once again be
fine. Don’t be like me. Don’t make things worse by making yourself
nuts. Don’t waste money on an easel.