If I have somewhere important to be, and I get a cup of coffee, at least 10 per cent of that coffee is going to end up getting dribbled down my shirt or splashed in my lap in the car.
To expect creative people to think creatively is fantasy
Not too long ago, I was on my way to a meeting. And like most of the meetings we have in the entertainment business - and probably every other business, too - it was sure to involve at least six more people than were really necessary.
People talk a lot about the worldwide economic slowdown, and there are all sort of stories in the news about persistent unemployment, but you wouldn't know it by walking into a typical meeting here in Los Angeles. Every seat is taken, every sofa cushion is occupied, people perch themselves along the arms of chairs - the entertainment business is so overstaffed and top-heavy that sometimes, depending on the project, half of the personnel in the room will have the title of "president" of something or other.
The irony, of course, is that in a world where everyone is a president, no one feels secure. The result is that it's rare for a president-level executive at a studio or network to allow himself to miss a meeting, even a meeting in a room that requires him to stand. If something happens in the meeting, if some project is given a green light, everyone wants to be able to claim some little piece of the credit.
On the other hand, if a project hits the skids or turns into a dud, no one will recall being in the meeting in the first place. This, I suspect, is the same in every business.
Driving to the meeting, I stopped on the way for a cup of coffee, which always is a mistake, because if I have somewhere to be, sort of important, and I get a cup of coffee, at least 10 per cent of that coffee is going to end up getting dribbled down my shirt or splashed in my lap in the car. The shirt front stain is slightly easier to accept: it merely announces to the world that my hand-eye coordination is vaguely deficient.
The stain in the lap, on the other hand, is a trickier deal. It's located in a zone that's impossible to ignore, but awkward to joke about. I know that everybody will assume that I've spilled a drink on myself. People do it all the time. But it'll start out the meeting with me, dork, looking odd and slightly crazy. A person with a stain in his lap just sends the message: I have trouble doing …things. Not the way to kick off a project. Especially in front of so many presidents.
As expected, I pull into the parking lot and immediately spill coffee on my lap, but I have already planned for this. Because I'm a professional, and I've done this a few times before, I know that if it's not the coffee, it'll be the salad dressing down my shirt, or an exploding pen or, something, you know, even more embarrassing.
Be prepared, is my motto. So I have an overnight bag in the car with a fresh pair of jeans and a clean white shirt and a couple of pairs of underwear and everything it takes to make your way in the world if, like me, things tend to fall off your fork or drip down your chin or you sometimes squeeze the coffee cup too hard and the lid pops off and coffee geysers out onto your trousers.
So I grabbed the bag and without getting out of the driver's seat, I struggle to make the necessary change - when one of those presidents pulled up beside me, and then hurried into the network offices.
Moments later, I caught up with him in the lobby. ""I, uh, spilled coffee," I said.
He smiled and shrugged. "I just thought it was part of your process," he said.
Which sort of sums up what all non-writers imagine a writer's process to be. Something odd and awkward. They think what we do is mysterious and unknowable, when in fact it's mostly just typing, and trying to stay focused and fighting the urge to nap and trying to come up with something you didn't expect and dreading the next meeting with the 17 presidents.
People expect creative people to behave creatively. They expect us to be eccentric and odd, and to have a quirky little process. It never occurs to them that we're really just clumsy, and that we're just like everyone else, just trying to get through the next 20 minutes with as little embarrassment as possible, just trying to find a seat at the big meeting.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood