Community writer Andy Bobrow wrote a piece for Medium titled “How Writing for the TV Show Community Cured Me.” It’s really pretty great, and you should go read it when you have a few minutes, especially if you’re still struggling with the fact that #SixSeasonsAndAMovie ended up being #FiveSeasonsAndSomeThinkpieces. The gist of it is that working at the show — and in particular, with Dan Harmon, who comes off as kind of a booze-soaked oracle, which, I mean, yeah — improved his writing significantly, curing him of a self-diagnosed malady called SWS (Sh*t Writing Syndrome).
The money shot is this (partially?) fictionalized conversation with Harmon about how to improve your writing. Take notes, kids.
“The first step, which you’ve already taken, is to open your eyes and see the sh*t on the page. The second step is to drink because it f*cking sucks knowing how bad you are. It’s depressing. You can skip the drinking step if you want, it’s not a requirement. But the third step is also to drink, so you’ll have to skip two steps. You do pills? Weed?”
“I do Pop Tarts.”
“That sh*t’ll kill you.”
“I know, I’m working on it.”
“Okay, step four for you is sugar. Step five is delete. Keep the two percent that isn’t sh*t and delete the ninety-eight percent that’s sh*t. Rewrite it. Within your re-write, there will be two more percent that isn’t sh*t. Then just keep tossing the sh*t and replacing it until the ratio is tolerable.”
“How do I know when it’s tolerable?”
“I don’t know, make up your own answer, you’re the f*cking hero in this, finish your own story, find your own Nemo, Schindle your own list.”
I don’t know if any of you are looking for a little inspirational phrase to serve as a life mantra and/or a bumper sticker, but if you are, you could do a hell of a lot worse than “Schindle Your Own List.”
But anyway, more importantly, Bobrow illustrates how this write-delete-rewrite-write-delete-rewrite strategy improved his writing by including links to the first draft and a more polished draft of one of his episodes, Season 2’s excellent “Mixology Certification.” Looking over the two versions of the script, two things become clear: 1) This method works, and 2) I am really going to miss Community.