Blue Sky: Enter the TV Writers’ Room

The title of my column comes from an expression I only heard once in a writer’s room, but from somebody who’d been in a lot of rooms, over a lot of years, so I can only assume he didn’t make it up. To call a “blue sky” session in a writers room means that for a certain period of time any writer in the room is free to toss out any idea in the world. Theoretically about anything. In theory, if you were so inspired, you’d share your great serial killer set piece with the Modern Family writers or how much fun it’d be to see Hannibal and Will Graham take a road trip to Vegas.  That’s the kind of awesome we’re talking about here.

blue skyUnless you spent your childhood in Syria or have been embedded in an elite unite of the Navy Seals, writers’ rooms can be intimidating places. You’re constantly walking this tightrope of wanting to contribute, to have valuable ideas and valuable thoughts on other people’s ideas but not be the guy who just likes to hear the sound of his own voice. There are stories of writers who get fired simply because they become paralyzed with fear that they never say anything. Less often, but it still happens, are the writers who have opinions on everything – usually they’re the ones who hate everything, and soon or later, their hate boomerangs on them, and one day, they’re simply gone and their name is never spoken of again.

I spent five years in a very intimidating writers’ room where I learned one extremely valuable thing from one writer in the room.  Whenever this guy would pitch a story idea, it was as if he was only interested in telling himself a story. He would laugh at the moments he thought were funny and generally act as if this was the greatest idea ever that he was just allowing the rest of us to eavesdrop on. It’s a mindset that can be taught actually, and something I especially work on with writers who are going out to pitch TV shows, because for most of us this kind of confidence doesn’t come naturally. You see it in athletes and performers and Bill Clinton, but personally I think anything that looks effortless, including confidence, is hard won through years of practice and training.

And so we come back to “blue sky.” I spent a lot of time between being offered this column and actually writing one, and it wasn’t until I had the title that I felt the tiniest bit of confidence that I might have something to say about writing, television writing, the television business, or even television sets. And then the two words I only heard once in a writers room flashed across the television screen in my head. Blue sky. Just blue sky the column, I said to myself. Write about whatever you want, more importantly, give yourself permission to write about whatever you want. Pretend you’re talking to yourself and nobody else is listening (or reading).

And then I began to get excited. Because by giving myself permission to write about anything, nothing was stupid or irrelevant because this column, from here on forward, is Montana. Nothing but blue sky. Nothing but permission to write and talk about anything. Which got me thinking, and I leave you with this until next time – what would your life look like, what would your writing look like, if it was nothing but blue skies?

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