Back in September 2010, I ran a week-long series featuring key excerpts from a memorable series of presentations by David Milch at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Then this week, I stumbled upon this: An entire series called The Idea of the Writer by Milch now available on YouTube. In recognition of that wonderful news, I will reprise my posts and embed video from each of Milch’s presentations.
David Milch is a talented writer. Check out these credits:
Television credits (as creator)
- Beverly Hills Buntz (1987-1988) – co-creator, writer, producer of this Hill Street Blues spin-off.
- Capital News (1990) – co-creator, writer, producer.
- NYPD Blue (1993-2005) – co-creator, writer, executive producer.
- Brooklyn South (1997-1998) – co-creator, executive producer.
- Total Security (1997) – co-creator, writer.
- Big Apple (2001) – creator, writer, executive producer.
- Deadwood (2004-2006) – creator, writer, executive producer.
- John from Cincinnati (2007) – co-creator, writer, executive producer.
- Last of the Ninth (2009) – creator, writer, executive producer.
- Luck (2010) – creator, writer, executive producer.
Awards and recognition
- 1993 Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Hill Street Blues)
- 1994 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “4B or Not 4B”)
- 1995 Emmy Award, Best Drama Series (NYPD Blue)
- 1995 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “Simone Says”) (shared with Steven Bochco and Walon Green)
- 2006 Austin Film Festival, Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient
Not to mention the 259 episodes of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” he’s credited with writing.
I did this post back in July that featured some great video of Milch sharing his thoughts about writing. At the time, I noted this:
What leaped to mind when I read the news about the new HBO series was a series of presentations Milch gave at the WGA Theater several years ago. They were covered and excerpted in the fine WGA journal “Written By” over the course of several months. I remember reading them, both fascinated and inspired by Milch’s ideas.
I contacted “Written By” and they have kindly offered to create electronic versions of the original hard copies, so I can excerpt them on GITS. Look forward to that sometime soon.
This week each day, I’ll feature some of Milch’s comments from those presentations at the WGA Theater from back in 2001, excerpted from the “Written By” journal. Here is Part 3:
With our work [as writers], we oftentimes feel an impulse to attach special conditions, and some of those conditions and some of those attachments are so deep that we never submit the work at all. Which is to say that we can learn to live a life organized around justified resentment. And that the act of drinking poison and expecting the other person to expire can go on right up to the end, when we know, finally, who the one is who keels over.
Any time you want to take the easy road in dispelling the misconception that we find our final identities as separate creatures, go to a ball game and listen to the distinct special personality of the crowd as one organism. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, who drove him completely crazy, wrote: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are varieties of service, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good…”
If you persevere [in writing], I suspect those feelings [of inadequacy and fear of authority figures] would subside then reappear. But at a certain point, you’ll discover a separate phenomenon, which is that the pages exist and begin to have a certain substance, a certain heft. Perhaps you begin to generate respect for the separate existence of the material, and if the voice begins to come alive for you—and sometimes they don’t for a while—but if they do you might recall the moments of doubt. If you sustain your commitment, the amount of time that you commit to it allows various textures to enter into the material. The brief moment that we live, as we experience it, is textured by time. And if we allow our work—whatever work we do—to respect the dimension of time, then, simply, “If you stick with it, you begin to experience a different sort of truth.”
My teacher told me that the secret subject of any story worth telling is time, but you can never say its name.
When you work in a police show, when you talk to cops, when they analyze different types of wounds, they describe one set of wounds as “defensive cuts,” which are the kinds of wounds you receive when you’re trying to ward off a blow. That set of voices—the one voice that is punitive, and the other voice that simply is trying to ward off a blow by distracting the conversation (there are 50 different strategies that second voice might use)… I should tell those of you who experience that set of voices simply to press on. The danger for the people that we’re talking about is to identify the self with either of those voices. The separateness of the material is crucial to accept. Ultimately, that’s how you must come to experience your work. If you do that, you will feel that same, separate, larger identity that the crowd feels in the stadium. Ah, you will feel a different being. And the opportunity to feel ourselves as different beings, as larger than ourselves, is the great gift that God, or life, gives us.
“If you stick with it, you begin to experience a different sort of truth.” You will notice this is a underlying theme to what Milch is saying — press on, dig deeper, have faith. There is story (little “s”) which exists on the surface, what we, as writers, may manage to find in a first pass at the material. Then there is Story (big “S”) which is full of riches and gems, and the only way we find them, expose them to the light is through the hard work of going further and further into the story.
The thing to remember per Milch is that those riches and gems are there. We just need to fight the voices of doubt and trust in the voice of faith that if we persevere, we will find them.
Day 3: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.
For Part 1, go here.
Part 2, here.
Tomorrow Part 4.