Nice interview by The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf with Rob Long, the Emmy-winning writer on "Cheers" who lives in Venice, does his weekly Martini Shot column for KCRW and continues to write for TV. He talks about the rules in the "Cheers" writing room, what shows have the right spontaneity now (he's a fan of Tina Fey and of "The Office"), and how unpleasantly hard the writing process can be. Excerpts:
Was writing something you'd always done?
I always thought I was going to be a writer, but I don't think I really knew what that meant. I'm still not sure. The kind of writing I do is mostly such that I don't even write. I just talk things out. Someone else writes it down. For dialogue and drama, I find that when I'm staring at the screen or a blank page it isn't as easy as when I'm just sort of thinking out loud. Prose is a really fun thing to do, but it's harder. You have to write on every line. I don't really write for the page, I try to write as if someone is speaking it.
Do you find that you work better when you're a little bit distracted? At a coffee shop, for example, rather than a quiet room? Does the setting matter?
If you wake up, get a cup of coffee, and sit down at your desk, say it's 9:30 in the morning. In that situation, I'm thinking to myself, 'Holy shit, really? I'm going to be here all day doing this? This is painful hard work! I can't do that. Please, what's on the web? Do I have any new emails?' I just see myself as trapped, like I'm drowning, and I just flail for anything to take away that awful feeling.
'My God,' I think, 'I could be here at this desk forever.'
And I can't. I just can't.
How deliberate is the setup of your office? Is your desk intentionally near that window over there?
I write better by windows. Anything to remind me that I'm not trapped, because being trapped is the worst. I find I'm most productive - I'm going to San Francisco tomorrow, and I'm just booking my tickets. And I'm thinking, I probably should book that latest flight, because even if I get to the airport at 8:00 AM, I could sit at the United Red Carpet club in SFO, and it's really a productive place to work. I'm thinking the wait would be a good thing. I get two full hours in there. I can catch up on stuff and be way ahead. I know I can do stuff there productively because I'm not there forever, right? I'm only there for two hours, there's a comfortable chair, it's got Wi-Fi. I can do all the stuff I need to do, because I know that pretty soon I'm going to fly away.
You see, escape is the important thing.