In 2007 I went to the Screenwriters Expo in Los Angeles. The highlight of it was taking Ellen Sandler‘s class on pitching. I didn’t realize at the time that she would become a mentor and a role model and a constant source of inspiration. I bought her book, The TV Writer’s Workbook, and to make a long story short, brought her to Japan in 2008 and 2009 to teach her wonderful writing workshops.
I continue to stay in touch with Ellen and what I love about her is her command of her craft, her brutal honesty and her piercing questions. While she was in Tokyo, she and I went to lunch at a traditional style Japanese restaurant in Asakusa, the ancient part of Tokyo that actually makes Westerners feel they are in a uniquely exotic country and not a modern metropolis. While we ate our tempura and rice and miso soup, we naturally started talking about writing. At some point she asked me what sounded like a very simple question: “Why do you write?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was some pseudo-philosophical comment on what I felt I had to say, and that I wanted to write for certain TV shows and certain movie stars. As I was in the midst of my babble-fest, she said, “No. You write because you write. Because you are a writer. Because you have to. It has nothing to do with money or fame or anything else. It’s something you have to do. You can’t not write.”
Now… she may not have said those exact words… but she said words to that effect.
This last week I was reminded of this conversation, because, based off a 5-page sample and synopsis I prepared for the Nameless Media Company in Nagoya, a very influential American film organization requested a full screenplay from that sample for further consideration. The only caveat is that I had about two weeks to write it. Fortunately because I’ve been doing my homework all along, I had my outline of the entire screenplay ready to go. While part of me panicked, the rest of me did what I was supposed to: sit down and write. I wasn’t thinking about fame, fortune, future opportunities, meeting the stars. I wasn’t even thinking about my eventual paycheck. I was just thinking: I am going to write and I am going to finish it. The only thing I had on my mind was writing. As I was in the midst of the screenplay, I heard Ellen’s strong, distinctive voice ring in my head “Because you write.” And, at last, I understood what she said so simply and eloquently. It finally had meaning for me in a real, tangible way.
In fact, ever since I finally made the decision to cut back on my performance schedule (I’m a professional accompanist and pianist), the only thing I’ve done is write. As a result, I was able to update my two feature scripts, update my sitcom pilot, write a spec script for Younger with my brilliant co-writer Kimberly Tierney, prepare my book Freelancing in Tokyo for a second printing, and finish off this new screenplay for Nameless. If I had been thinking about anything other than writing, I would not have achieved these things.
There were moments, while I was writing the new screenplay for Nameless, that I wanted to run screaming for the hills. Hide. Slip under covers and pretend it was night. But while I was writing the screenplay, I forced myself to focus on it and only asked myself one question:
“Do you want to do this or not?”
The answer was a resounding “yes.”
So, if you ever wonder whatever happened to David Chester and why you don’t see him anymore, the answer is easy: because he’s writing… and he’s loving it.