HOW CAN I WRITE WHEN THE WORLD IS BURNING?

October 16, 2020 by Sheryl Anderson

The Greenhouse is pleased to welcome veteran writer and showrunner Sheryl Anderson to the Journal! Sheryl is also going to be leading The Greenhouse’s new writers program, which will be launched at the end of the year. Starting with this article, Sheryl also will be presenting a monthly column on everything you need to know to succeed as a professional writer. No matter what genre or format you’re tackling, she offers insight for all the various issues surrounding the art of writing. Looking for a writing mentor? Start here.

In discussing the writers program at The Greenhouse, we thought it might be helpful to have a forum to discuss various facets of the writing process, separate from the workshops and the writers groups. A place where we can share thoughts, answer questions, and examine feelings about this lovely, challenging, thrilling, nerve-wracking process. Hence, this column.

Let me introduce myself. I’m a television writer/producer, working primarily in the hour episodic space for the last… many years. I’m a mother, a Lutheran, and a coffee junkie. I’m part of the group at The Greenhouse that leads the writers program; I’ve taught at a variety of workshops and universities, but The Greenhouse is my favorite place to teach.

While I’m happy to answer your specific questions, this column isn’t about teaching. It’s about sharing. It’s about discussing what matters to us as artists – and it’s about reminding ourselves that while writing is often a solitary pursuit, none of us are in this alone. A community of artists can feed each other, encourage each other, and lift each other up, to the benefit of the members and the work.

And I think we need to be reminded of the value of what we do in turbulent times such as these. There’s an old folk tale in which Horse finds Sparrow on his back in the middle of the road, tiny legs sticking up in the air. Horse asks, “Are you hurt, friend?” Sparrow replies, “Didn’t you hear? The sky is going to fall. I need to help.” Horse chuckles, “And you think your scrawny little legs can help hold up the sky?” Sparrow replies, “One does what one can, friend. One does what one can.”

As artists, it’s easy for us to feel like we’re offering up our stories like scrawny little legs against the full weight of the world’s sorrows. But we have to do what we can. We’ve been given a gift, and it’s our responsibility to use it well.

Art can change the world, by presenting new ideas, personalizing conflicts, and provoking conversation. As William Faulkner said, “It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.” Yes, the world is burning, and we have important work to do. But for those of us called to write, that’s important, too. We have hearts to lift and minds to open, or change is going to come too slowly. We need to be writing, even among the embers.

This doesn’t mean that each of us must write That Important Work That Will Change Everything. Your work can offer answers, but it can also offer hope or affirmation or escape. If you write comedy, you offer the power of a laugh to restore balance and hope. If you write drama, you share the value of inspiring us to seek justice, community, and peace. If you write thrillers or horror, you give us the joyful catharsis of winning against all odds.

It’s hard to write these days, when our hearts are heavy and our brains are foggy, when the industry and the nation are in turmoil. But we can write our way out, as Lin-Manual Miranda reminds us. We can shape the future by what we write today. And we can come together in community, here at The Greenhouse, to help each other do that.

If you have questions, please ask them. If you have thoughts, please share them. I’ll be here, holding up my piece of the sky. I hope you’ll join me.

Sheryl Anderson B&W

Sheryl Anderson

Sheryl J. Anderson is a television writer/producer and has written half-hour, hour, and movies (such as Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Charmed, and The Town that Came A'Courtin'). She has sold pilots to SyFy, Lifetime, and NBC, and created and served as showrunner of UPtv's first original scripted series, Ties that Bind. Most recently, she has been the showrunner for Netflix's upcoming Sweet Magnolias. She has recently written movies for UPtv and Hallmark. She is an adjunct faculty member in the Screenwriting MFA at Pepperdine University and lectures regularly at Azusa Pacifica University. Sheryl is also the author of the Molly Forrester Mysteries, a series now available from Ignition Books.

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