cut your teeth

Malcolm Gladwell’s Principle of 10,000 hours is well documented, but for those of you who aren’t familiar, the idea goes like this: achieving mastery of a specific skill require an estimated ten-thousand hours of practice. Backed by research studies and social experiments, Gladwell asserts that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”

And now let’s turn our attention to greatness.

In my mind, Aaron Sorkin sets a standard for great screenwriting. From his work on The West Wing to The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin’s mastery as a writer of dialogue and circular scene structure is unparalleled. The open ten minutes of The Social Network prove as much; it’s a masterclass all on its own.

Here’s the problem: in order to develop the skill to write a scene this tight, this well-crafted, this perfect, Sorkin write an awful lot.

And how did he do so? He spent years writing television. Not just any television mind you: he was writing The West Wing (not to mention his early work on A Few Good Men, The American President, and Sports Night, and the much-overlooked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.)

Sorkin wrote every episode of the first four seasons of The West Wing, a nearly unimaginable feat. “No human being will ever write 22 episodes a year for four years ever again,” said West Wing alum Bradley Whiteford at a 2016 cast reunion. “That’s 11 feature films a year. It will never, ever happen again.”

It’s daunting to realize the only way you wind up writing the opening of The Social Network is to cut your teeth writing The West Wing. But as Macklemore says, “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they’d paint a lot.”

Additional Notes: In a recent interview with Brian Koppelman, when asked why he didn’t let someone else write The West Wing, Sorkin explained, “for the same reason Martin Sheen doesn’t let someone else play Bartlett from time to time. This is my part.”

Words cannot express how much I love this mindset. Know your place on the team. Show up and do what you’re there to do.