Writing Nirvana: What's Your Dream Writing Gig?

By Daniel Ford and Sean Tuohy

Sean: What is your dream project? Given the chance and funding, what would you love to work on?

Daniel: My go-to answer usually has something to do writing a novel as my job instead of something I do as a side gig. I don't want to write on buses or trains, at bars or college campuses anymore. I want my daily work routine to include sitting down at a computer and typing up some rich hell to make my characters walk through.

However, I have this other dream. And it scares the hell out of me. I'd love to write for a television show. I have zero experience writing screenplays (as you're painfully aware of), and have no clue about writers’ room dynamics. But it would be thrilling to have an idea that's good enough for a character to say on television. Just one line of dialogue in a drama or sitcom that gets a reaction from an audience would make me the happiest writer on Earth.

How about you? Major feature film? Small indie? Television show? Detective novel?

Sean: Making writing a full-time gig would be the best. I know that it will happen at some point, so I’m comfortable waiting for it to happen. Just have to pay the dues first. I remember reading that during his high point screenwriter/novelist William Goldman would leave his New York City apartment in the morning and make his way to an office where he wrote for hours until the late afternoon and then went out and walked around the city. One day... 

The dream project would oddly be a novel. I love screenplays but there is no dream screenplay that I want to see as a film. Sadly with screenplays you have to accept that there is a huge chance it will never be made. Ever. 

I've outlined chunks of a story, done the research, conducted more research, but I need the time to focus on it. I also think it needs more time to simmer...like a few years. The novel would focus on Peru in the 1960s and follow three men with a shared goal. It’s based on my family, but with a good chunk made up.

Television is more open nowadays because everyone needs content. Doug Richardson told us that.

Daniel: It's fascinating that we essentially want to switch roles. Do you think that's because I've written a novel and you've written a screenplay? Do you think it's just us wanting to test our storytelling ability and seek out new challenges?

Judging from what I know about your family's history, those men's shared goal might not be altruistic. That's a novel I'd want to read.

Sean: I'm not too sure where it comes from. Maybe just the need to change it up. I think it may come from the fact that as writers you need to find the right match for a story.

The one I want to tell really fits well with a novel. A screenplay would limit the story, and I can’t force it into another format. If you try to force a story to be something it isn’t, it won’t work. The back of your mind knows what works, but it needs to connect with the front of brain and that can be hard.

The story you want to tell may work best for television and your brain knows it and is letting you know that.

Daniel: Could also be that I binge watch television on a regular basis.

I gravitate toward shows with singular visions. Like "Mad Men," "Rectify," "Deadwood," "The Sopranos." Hearing those writers/directors talk about writing scripts late into the night and molding a show to fit what's in their head sounds exhilarating. I don't have an idea for anything (yet), but those are the types of shows I'd like to work on. Something that maybe lasts for a season or two, but maybe influences other shows.

I essentially wrote my novel as a series of short stories. Each chapter doesn't advance the plot so much as take a snapshot of my character at that specific point in his life. You could say each chapter is an episode.

Damn you, Tuohy, now I'm writing a television series in my head. How dare you!

Sean: You write that television show, damn it!

If you look at “The Wire,” it's just one giant book. That is all it is.

As much as I love television, the question going forward is when do people become overwhelmed by everything that’s out there and stop watching?

Daniel: I think that question exists for everything. Think about how many crime novels there are. How many of them are truly original? But people love the genre, so books keep getting published. The great material will always rise to the top. People thought television was going to be a fad when it first came out, but it's still with us. I think showrunners are treating these shows very much like a short story collection right now. It’s chance to tell a story over time that's not as limiting (or financial crippling) as a major feature film. There's just so many ways you can explore characters and plots.

Take "Fargo" for example. Great movie that you wouldn't think would make for a good series. Yet, it's great. Writers are always going to come up with good stories. I think the form is constantly being reinvented and that's a good thing. The landscape should encourage future screenwriters (and writers in general), not discourage them.

Sean: Wow. That sums up the writing landscape perfectly.

Daniel: That's why I believe in what we do. There are roughly a gazillion blogs, bazillion literary websites, and a plethora of other content publishers online. But how many actually stand out for good reasons, not salacious ones? Sure, every market is saturated in some way, but there are so many niche readerships, audiences, and communities that can support fledging operations. If we had unlimited resources, we'd maybe have a sleeker website design, we'd have a sound studio to record pods, and we'd serve Blanton's in our water coolers. But would we really do anything all that differently? Probably not. We'd just be able to do more of it with greater frequency and depth. At least before our cocaine addictions.

Sean: ...The blow always gets me...always...

But you are correct. If we had the resources we would be able to make the website sleeker and make this better and that better, but it would not make the content better. You could have a million dollars invested into a website or television show, but if the content is poor the show is going to be poor.

Unless it’s "NCIS."