BJ Novak on The Writing Process He Learned Doing The Office and Has Been Using Ever Since
One of the particularity of U.S. remake of The Office is that actors were also writers on the show. Multi-hyphenated storyteller BJ Novak was one of those wearing several hats, and during a conversation on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, he talks about the writing process the team behind The Office developed, and that he has been using ever since.
I had never heard of this way of ‘attacking’ story building, I can see how positive reinforcement might help us get through the unavoidable tougher times and, most importantly, how it can be used for any type of projects, this is definitely not limited to writing comedy for a network.
The Blue Sky Period
“The way that we would start a season, and I’ve adapted this to many things I’ve done since, which starts with what we would call a Blue Sky Period.
For two, three, four weeks sometimes, if we had a long time, every single day in the writers room was just ‘What if…’
There’s no penalty, there’s no “maybe we can’t”, there’s no “but this one conflicts with that one”. What if Dwight goes to the moon? What if Jim and Pam get divorced? Just every idea is valid for a while.
The showrunner would say ‘All right we don’t have anything for Dwight, or how about everyone splits up and comes back with ten ideas for Ryan, or let’s come up with more ensemble stories.’
There would be sort of a leadership that way, it wasn’t just all sitting around.(…)
So that was incredible and it really was creatively important, and I try to replicate that in everything I do, not shut down any ideas for a period.
And then, the best ideas would fuel you past the problems. After the few weeks of Blue Sky, we would love some ideas so much that it would be obvious what the best fifteen stories were, and then we would start talking more seriously, and then we would look which ones do our love for the story carry us through the inevitable “well… how can Dwight be here if he’s also there” stuff like that.
Finding the love first, and then letting that carry you through the problem. You find what you love about an episode, or in other things I’ve done, a story idea or a standup bit, you get to indulge and develop what you love about it, so then when you come up with ‘Oh but then we couldn’t show this on TV’ or ‘It is kind of contrived’ or whatever it is, you’ll love it so much that you’ll have the inspiration to fix it.
You can listen to the full podcast episode with Tim Ferriss here.