From Treehouses to Woolly Socks: Scribes on 'Black Lightning,' 'Empire' and More Reveal Their Bizarre Writing Rituals

6:00 AM 5/10/2018

by Bryn Elise Sandberg

The hideouts, habits, coffee dosages and companions (three dogs, two cats) that help get the stories flowing.

Illustrations by Travis Millard
  • Glen Mazzara

    'The Dark Tower'

    “There’s a tree house in the yard. It’s maybe 75 square feet, big enough for a built-in desk and a tiny bathroom. It’s got a rustic cabin feel. The tree house does lend itself to certain rituals. I have to literally sweep away the cobwebs, wipe up detritus and create ‘a clean, well-lighted’ space. It’s a Gothic process that mirrors going into my imagination and finding the story with its particular scenes and rhythm.”

  • Gloria Calderon Kellett

    'One Day at a Time'

    “Before I work I usually put together a playlist. Songs that inspire the mood of whatever I’m writing. Then I choose a scent of candle. Usually a different scent for a different show. Writing for me is about all the senses. And coffee. Lots of coffee. … Cuban coffee, of course!”

  • Liz Tigelaar

    'Little Fires Everywhere'

    “I hole up, don’t shower for four days and relish shutting out the world. Whether it’s making nachos, going into a wormhole of a) Carly and Bo from Days of Our Lives circa 1990-91; b) anything involving the 1996 Women’s Gymnastics Team; or c) drinking wine and shopping on Zara Kids for clothes for my 3-year-old, I will do anything not to break a story. Even exercise."

  • Sarah Treem

    'The Affair'

    “The things I always need when I’m writing are thick, woolly socks, some place to rest my feet and plenty of coffee. Mostly I write whenever, wherever, however I can because with two little kids, I just don’t have that much free time.”

  • Laeta Kalogridis

    'Altered Carbon'

    “My writing rituals involve making endless cups of tea and covering myself with pets and blankets. I’m not sure writing while literally having three dogs and two cats on you really counts — although I’ve been known to write animals into my shows when on location so that I can borrow them from the wrangler to sit with me while I’m writing.”

  • Salim Akil

    'Black Lightning'

    “I take long drives late, late at night because it is meditative. And I only sleep on the couch the entire time I’m writing. I don’t like to get comfortable.”

  • Aline Brosh McKenna

    'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

    “In the bath at night, I sift through everything I thought of or anything that was pitched during the day and let my thoughts bubble up — see what I did there? — and that’s when I make some decisions about where I think we need to go. The bathtub, for me, is an ideal workspace — relaxing, quiet, private and no fuss about what to wear.”

  • Ilene Chaiken

    'Empire'

    “I have to cook or bake something to mark the beginning of my writing process. I usually cook something new that I never made before. The thing that’s important about it is it has to be elaborate and full of procedures and tactile elements — and the longer it takes, the better. Fava beans, bone broth, blanched almonds — anything you have to take out of a shell that is really, really tedious. And then I go back and forth between the kitchen and my writing space.”

  • Tanya Saracho

    'Vida'

    “I clean my writing space with Florida water — it’s a witchy thing; it’s not water from Florida. Then I light incense; I have this little bell that I ring three times and then this palo santo spray. I light a ton of candles: There’s one for creativity, one for my saint and then one for my archangel Uriel, who is the archangel for writers and artists. And then I do a little, ‘Please illuminate!’ and look to the sky, and then I start — and the incense doesn’t stop. If it does, I put another one on.”

  • Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields

    'The Americans'

    “When we’re struggling to break a story or wrestling with a challenging character turn, we often say, ‘Let’s walk on it.’ Sometimes we walk for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. If we have enough good ideas that we start to get nervous we’ll forget them, we talk into a voice recorder, then email the file to our office, so when we get back, a typed version is waiting for us to work from. Other times, we’ll be putting our coats on to head out for our walk, and we’ll solve our story problem before we get to the door. Then we have to decide if we’re still going to take the walk. Usually we do.”

    This story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.