I really enjoyed this book. Lin, a writer for multiple hit, and not so hit, television shows, has written a book about her life in writing and how largely terrible it was. The book is a blast.
Lin, who wrote for Friends and Freaks and Geeks, among other shows you have probably never heard or wish you never heard of, writes honestly about her life in and out of writing and what drove her form writing for television. It is fascinating on two levels. First, I am always fascinated by the creative process, any creative process. Lin’s descriptions of how she made herself create, even in terrible circumstances, are catnip to me. She is unsparing about her own foibles, the effects she had on those around her, and the effect those around her had on her own process, both good and bad. It is a fascinating look at how one perosn made art in good times and in bad and why.
It also, and I cannot believe I am going to say this, made me appreciate human resource departments. Directors and showrunners are given an enormous amount of power in the television industry with very little apparent guidance or interference. Sometimes, like with the creators of Freaks and Geeks, it works because they are decent enough and mature enough to handle the pressures. Sometimes, like with the creator of Breaking Bad, it turns into a passive aggressiveness nightmare because they aren’t mature enough to handle the responsibility. Other times, on many other shows, it turns into a horror show version of high school with petty power games and cliques making the writer’s room a gauntlet.
In addition to the difficulties of often being the only, or one of the only, women and/or minorities on the staff, Lin kept describing situations that I could only think of as “unprofessional”. Obviously, these kinds of activities happen in some other corporate environments, but a lot of what she describes I have seen shutdown in normal businesses if for no other reason than fear of the HR/legal department. In most professional environments you simply cannot treat people the way Lin and her fellow writers were treated as a matter of course. I know the WGA has a lot of issues in strike to resolve, but I hope some thought is given to better protecting their workers.
And yes, there is something that passes for celebrity gossip in these pages. But it more about how these people are warped by the camera and the fame. Not an original observation, but one that Lin handles deftly with a few sharp details. The entire book is like that — written with both generosity and the kind of wry humor that you don’t realize is a blade until it has cut Lin’s deserving target.
It’s a light, breezy read about creating art, enduring commerce, how Hollywood sucks even if a lot of the people are great, and I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up.