Aaron Sorkin on Writing

Aaron Sorkin The Social Network

Aaron Sorkin stands in the upper echelon of working screenwriters. Charlie Wilson’s War and The Social Network are phenomenal films.  The upcoming Moneyball, based on the novel by Michael Lewis, looks fantastic. Sorkin was still in his twenties when he wrote the play A Few Good Men, selling the film rights before it even premiered. 1 That’s not to say it came easy…

It took two years to write “Men”, since Sorkin’s writing process was so thorough: “I’d write it to the end and go back and write it all over again, go back and write it all over again, go back and write it all over again. I think I probably wrote, without exaggeration, about twenty drafts of A Few Good Men’.” 2

The hours paid off. His first screenplay for Hollywood was an adaptation of his own play that happened to land two of the biggest stars in the world (In the original play, I’ve been told Stephen Lang’s take on the Jessup role gave Nicholson a run for his money). I believe some people are born to write and some people really have to work at it. Sorkin was born to write.

I do have my criticisms. The Social Network is as near flawless as could possibly exist, but it could have been just as solid not using the Facebook name. The script’s goals (internally, Mark’s need to find a true friend; externally, Mark’s desire to capture the attention of the finals clubs) carry the film and define the character, but the facts tell us otherwise. Mark met the girl he’s dated exclusively since 2003 (though they did have a brief separation) at a fraternity party: a party thrown by the same fraternity he belonged to. 3 These are not criticisms of the screenwriter, but of the person. He’s not alone.  Plenty have done it and plenty will continue to do it under the pretense of “dramatic license.” To that, I can only say they sold far more tickets sensationalizing Facebook’s history than they would have without. Citizen Kane gave us Charles Foster Kane, not a bastardization of William Randolph Hurst’s life. But back to the work…

David Fincher managed to wrangle The Social Network’s 163 page script into a two hour film. That’s a lot of script, folks. I can’t help but picture Sorkin chain smoking, furiously pecking away at a keyboard for hours on end. When I stumbled across an interview with him commenting on his writing process, it seems that type of portrait may not be far from the truth:

Once you’ve started, he says, you have to get on with it: “Don’t delay, don’t write an outline. The difference between being on page two and being on page nothing is the difference between life and death. I can’t stare at that blank page with the blinking cursor; it drives me mad. I want my foot in the door, I want to get started. And, once I’ve got started, I want to get to the end, and once I’m at the end, I know so much more about what it is that I’m writing that I can go back and take out everything that isn’t about what I was writing.” 4

How many truly possess the ability to just “get on with it?” I doubt it’s many. For me, the outline is the structure. It’s pointless to paint a wall until I know the size. Regardless of the way you get there, it just boils down to discipline. The heart to write and rewrite until you can give no more. But for a guy like Sorkin, it’s life and death.

  1. “Aaron Sorkin.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 09 Aug. 2011. Web. 09 Aug. 2011. Link.
  2. McCurrie, Tom. “AARON SORKIN GIVES A FEW GOOD TIPS ON WRITING.” HollywoodLitSales.com. 8 June 2004. Web. 09 Aug. 2011. Link.
  3. “Mark Zuckerberg.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 09 Aug. 2011. Web. 09 Aug. 2011. Link.
  4. “The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin Interview.” The Telegraph. 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 09 Aug. 2011. Link.