'Twilight Zone' Creator Rod Serling Shares Great Screenwriting Insight in Final Interview
To many he's just that eerie, stilted voice of The Twilight Zone, but to others he was an incredibly talented writer and mind behind one of the most popular TV shows of its time -- and still today holding its own. Rod Serling was widely celebrated, winning 6 Emmies, the Peabody, 2 Golden Globes, and 2 Writer's Guild of America awards during his unfortunately short career. Three months prior to his death, Serling gave his final interview in which he talks at length about screenwriting: his process, his motivation, and how he dealt with rejection early on in his career.
Many of us grew up watching and enjoying The Twilight Zone, unfortunately for those in my generation, we could only experience it through reruns on basic cable -- probably during the most monotonous hour of a Sunday afternoon. The show has a massive cult following today and is considered a mainstay of pop culture. But, what of the man behind it all?
Serling offers great insight in this expansive interview -- questions ranging anywhere from how important he thinks screenplays are to production to who or what he'd like to be if reincarnated. The most intriguing of them, though, center around his craft of screenwriting.
When asked why he writes, he replies:
Why do I write? I guess that's been asked of every writer. I don't know. It isn't any massive compulsion. I don't feel, you know, God dictated that I should write. You know, thunder rents the sky and a bony finger comes down from the clouds and says, "You. You write. You're the anointed." I never felt that. I suppose it's part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning up.
Another question that every writer is asked is about their process. Serling admits that he doesn't find any enjoyment in "the process," rather in finding that it "zings" or has "great warmth and import" -- and is successful, of course." He describes his writing habits: 3 hours of writing per day, but describes his "pre-writing routine" as "endless."
Recalling back to his early days as a writer, Serling remembers feeling the painful sting of rejection, but insists that the sting becomes less severe over time -- especially if you're financially stable:
It's gotten easier because now it's only a blow to ego, it's no longer a blow to pocketbook. I'm sufficiently independent to know that I can live well and comfortably all the rest of my life whether I'm rejected or not. In the old days, Linda, you were rejected, and not only was a piece of your flesh cut to pieces, your pocketbook was destroyed. You know—you don't have bread for rent -- You can become much more independent, much more courageous with a bank account. And also, much more independent and self-reliant when you know you have money behind you. But rejection is still rejection. It's a very difficult, bleeding process.
This struck me as a pretty whimsical stance for a military man who admits in the interview that he can't remember the last time he cried: when asked if he had anything encouraging to say to screenwriters going through endless rejection, he replied:
Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don't know how that happens but it does. If you're really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you'll write, and you'll be read, and you'll be produced somehow. It just works that way. If you're just a simple ordinary day-to-day craftsman, no different than most, then the likelihood is that you probably won't make it in writing. You're going to wind up either getting married, working for an insurance company, joining the regular army, or what-all. But if you have a spark in you, a cut above the average, I think ultimately you make it.
Although he may not be the quintessential screenwriting sage we'd typically go to for insight, there is much to be learned from Serling, especially from his interview.
What do you think about Rod Serling's thoughts on screenwriting? What stuck out to you? Let us know in the comments.