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The Ease of Burden

Erin Gruodis-Gimbel

Sep 1, 2023

"Writing is not like Athena, springing fully formed from Zeus’ forehead. Writing is like all of Zeus’ other children, where he has to relate to someone for creation (and boy, does he relate). To create things, we need other people. It takes two to tango, two to make a child, and around 12 to make a sitcom."

God lasted seven days without a writers’ room. Why would we subject the Writers Guild of America to the same thing?

From Genesis 1:1 through 2:4, God is alone. Well, mostly alone; he has all the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. But on the eighth day, the world is barren, for “there was no one to till the ground.” So God does what any sensible deity would do — he gives himself some company. Of course, this company also has chores to do. Thus, God has created the first writers’ room. What a legacy.

Many, many days later, the Writers Guild of America has gone on strike, essentially to prevent themselves from becoming chapter 1 of Genesis. Among the many issues the WGA is negotiating, two of the landmark ones are a minimum staffing requirement for writer’s rooms and thorough regulation of Artificial Intelligence for Guild projects.

The Guild argues that minimum staff requirements are necessary for sustainable production and growth, and that AI in its present form represents an existential threat to the profession as it exists today. The AMPTP, the group of studios that produce the vast majority of the entertainment we see, has consistently responded with the legal equivalent of “neener neener,” which is very difficult to negotiate with.

As a writer, I’m not particularly worried about AI. I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I have a healthy distrust of computers and outer space, but I’m not hysterical about it. So far, what we’ve seen has been a substandard aggregation of information, which is often incorrect, lacking nuance, skill, or voice. I’m not concerned. I also sometimes lack nuance, skill, and/or voice, but at least I can compensate by buying donuts for everyone. What I am worried about, in line with the Guild, is that the studios have become so enamored with the ease of AI that they get cartoon dollar signs in their eyes, and a cash register noise plays when they blink.

What AI is — and it’s important to note that I’m talking about AI in its current, publicly accessible form — is an advanced aggregator. It scrapes every bit of data from the internet and constructs a relevant answer to the prompt. It amalgamates; it doesn’t create. As of now, most AI-generated content has been published in the digital media sphere and is notably riddled with factual errors. If media companies wanted to publish things that were incorrect, they might as well hire me to write about advances in particle physics. Another job I’ve lost to a computer.

The worry is that the studios have such a low bar for the art they produce, lowering the bar even further by referring to it as “content,” so that an amalgamation, quickly, easily, and incorrectly produced by a computer, is preferable to the handpicked fruit of human labor. I guess if it comes down to it, using AI to write this article would actually be easier than doing it myself. In fact, in the course of getting this far, I have eaten a lot of very tiny tacos, spun around in my desk chair and gotten dizzy enough that I almost lost control of those very tiny tacos, read several theories on the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, delivered an impromptu TED Talk in my living room about the flaws in the AMPTP’s negotiation strategy, done the dishes, and engaged in some shoe shopping that I can absolutely not afford. Then I looked at the draft that I had, decided I didn’t like it at all, and started over. I called my dad, bounced some ideas off of him, texted two friends, bounced some ideas off of them, and now we’re here, together. I’m full of mini tacos (and a little queasy), and I hope you are also full and not queasy. What the studios hope to eliminate with those dollar signs in their eyes is exactly what I just did. Writing is very hard. Most of the time spent writing is not actually spent writing the thing you read. A lot of it is eating and doing the dishes. A lot of it is writing and then deleting, and then going through the document history and putting back what you deleted. And a lot of it, very notably, is talking to other people.

The Bible is not just about God. It has God; it has quite a lot of Him. But only 35 verses of the first book of the Bible feature just God. He lasted seven days before he needed someone else. The key to creation, at least after the first week, is relationships. Writing is not like Athena, springing fully formed from Zeus’ forehead. Writing is like all of Zeus’ other children, where he has to relate to someone for creation (and boy, does he relate). To create things, we need other people. It takes two to tango, two to make a child, and around 12 to make a sitcom.

AI supposedly simplifies that. It makes the process far easier than the previous model of having writers work alone. It takes the burden of creation — the picture of the tortured writer sitting alone, banging their head against the writer’s block and falling into a bottle of gin — and makes that process simpler, faster, kinder. More humane, ironically enough.

AI relieves the wrong burden, though. The burden of creation is not sitting alone, banging your head against the writer’s block and falling into a bottle of gin. That happens sometimes, sure, although I think those individuals would probably be alcoholics anyway. Writers, especially those that fall under WGA representation for TV and screenwriting, rarely write alone. Even if the work is done alone, there are phone calls, workshops, writer’s groups, and traded PDFs over email. There are editors and beta readers and reluctant partners who would rather be doing something else. Working alone isn’t the burden of creation; working together is. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “hell is other people.” Clearly, he was observing my Intro to Playwriting class.

Working collaboratively is hard. That’s the real burden. Sometimes, collaboration looks less like writing and more like a cattle auction. But there’s a reason that TV has writers’ rooms, screenwriters often have partners, playwrights like me have working groups and workshop cohorts. Other people may be hell, but they are also key to creation, whether it means working on one thing together or the constant revising that comes with feedback.

The first play that I ever wrote was seven pages long. Over a year before I would even consider myself a writer, I was texting with a friend, and we created the character of an old man who refused to die. A hitman showed up at his home, and he simply said, “no thank you,” and went about his day. I told my friend to give me 20 minutes, and I came back with a 7-page play called Shel and Lenny. I wrote that play alone, but I didn’t create it alone. For other plays, I created them alone, but I had directors, actors, dramaturgs, sometimes just people passing by, who helped, who shaped them, who annoyed me so much with their feedback that I eventually made the play even better just to shut them up. Even when I am alone at my desk, I have partners. Even when I am alone in my room, I have a writers’ room, although it’s sometimes better known as cold-calling my friends and leaving very long voicemails.

Multiple voices, multiple perspectives, multiple stories, make work better. When you have unchecked inspiration from one person, you get a poor man’s version of David Foster Wallace. No one wants that. Not even David Foster Wallace (RIP).

For balance, for growth, for the sustainability of the profession, there have to be writers’ rooms. Some rare writers may work fully alone; I commend them and do not want to be like them. Writing is listening and disagreeing. Writing is compromise. Writing is translation of one idea into another voice. Writing is connection. After all, if we’re going to connect with our audiences, don’t we have to connect with each other?

If we want that connection — something most of us desire, though perhaps not the studios — you need many writers. Multiple people are expensive, hard to wrangle, and nearly impossible to get a cohesive lunch order for. It’s a burden, an expense, and time lost. But without that burden, we don’t work. Without that burden of creation, the inspiration that comes when you’re arguing, the realizations that come when you’re critiquing feedback… without those, writing doesn’t happen.

The studios think that’s a burden that needs to be lifted, and they believe AI will do it for us. All that pesky relating to each other and collaborating can be eliminated with a computer that spits out a substandard facsimile of what you and eleven other writers would have come up with.

They want AI to take us to the Genesis 1:1 version of writing — a solitary writer drinking themselves to death in an attic in front of ChatGPT. This is preferable, they want to tell us. Look at how little work you have to do! You don’t need those noisy rooms; you don’t need those arguments; you don’t need to talk to anyone else. We’ve freed you from your burden of creation, see?

By lifting this burden of creation, it brings us back to a model that is and has always been barren. No one truly works alone. Even when Henry David Thoreau claimed he was all by his lonesome on Walden Pond, his mother was dropping by every Thursday to do his laundry.

Writing isn’t easy. I spent an hour and a half on the phone trying to figure this out, not to mention the time I spent avoiding both the phone call and the writing. But no one does this because it’s easy. We do it because we have stories to tell; because if we didn’t do it, we’d feel some sort of metaphysical constipation. There are no spiritual laxatives that can fix that. We do it because it’s hard; because the struggle is worth it; because the struggle is a perverse kind of fun.

But just because writing isn’t easy doesn’t mean that's a problem to be fixed. Nowadays, there's a compulsion for everything to be convenient. Some things are difficult. Some things take time. Some things are worth the effort. We don’t need to automate the writing process to make it easier, taking the act of creation away from the individual. Not all burdens have to be eased; sometimes they just have to be shared.

God needed someone to till the field, and I need someone to tell me that we can’t have half the stage on fire for the second act, no matter how much I want it. The studios should be grateful that the need for collaboration is what I’m taking from the Bible, and not what Jesus said about rich men seeing Heaven.


Erin Gruodis-Gimbel is a playwright, author, and fact-checker based in New York. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can find her writing at Beyond Belief, JAKE the Mag, COPY, and on post-it notes and legal pads scattered around her like a semi-intellectual aura. You can find her at and erinxgg on Twitter. 


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