What if achieving your professional dreams comes at too high a personal cost? That’s what screenwriter Patty Lin started to ask herself after years in the cutthroat TV industry. One minute she was a tourist, begging her way into the audience of Late Night with David Letterman. Just a few years later, she was an insider who—through relentless hard work and sacrifice—had earned a seat in the writers’ rooms of the hottest TV shows of all time. Patty steeled herself against the indignities of a chaotic, abusive, male-dominated work culture, not just as one of the few women in the room, but as the only Asian person.
Lin is an author and former TV writer/producer whose credits include Freaks and Geeks, Friends, Desperate Housewives, and Breaking Bad. She has also written pilots for Fox, CBS, and Nickelodeon. Her Breaking Bad episode, “Gray Matter,” was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Script of 2008 in the Episodic Drama category. She retired from television to save her sanity and began writing a book as an answer to the question, “Why would you quit such a cool job?” The end result is her new memoir, End Credits: How I Broke Up with Hollywood, which Judd Apatow calls “hilarious and brutally honest.”
We have the pleasure of hosting Lin live at the American Writers Museum on October 5 at 6:00 pm Central to discuss her career, the television industry, and her new memoir. Lin will be joined in conversation by author, podcaster, and publisher Zibby Owens. We spoke with Lina via email to learn more about her and her work. Read on to get the inside scoop and then register for our program, which takes place in person at the AWM but will also be livestreamed. Get tickets to attend in person here, or register for the livestream link here.
American Writers Museum: What do you hope readers get out of reading End Credits?
Patty Lin: I want them to know there’s more to life than work and career. They don’t have to be defined by their work. They can feel successful whether or not they check all the boxes they think they should be checking. We all have a script in our heads of how our lives should go, and I hope this book shows people that they can “go off script” in both big and small ways and still find happiness.
AWM: What about television writing first attracted you to it? And then, what about it led you to move on from it?
PL: When I started my TV career as a college intern at Late Night with David Letterman, I had to research guests that were booked on the show and write questions that Dave could ask them in his interviews. Sometimes my questions would make it into the script, and it was always a thrill. That was my first taste of TV writing, and the excitement of seeing my contributions on screen never faded.
But as my career progressed, that thrill was overpowered by the negative aspects of the business: the impossibly long hours, the office and on-set politics, and the toxic workplace culture. These all took a massive toll on my mental and physical health and personal relationships, to the point where I knew the only option was to walk away.
AWM: Do you have a favorite show that you worked on? Or fellow screenwriters/writers’ rooms that you especially enjoyed collaborating with?
PL: Freaks and Geeks was by far my favorite show, as well as the best writers’ room. That show was a unique blend of funny, sad, smart, and sweet; it had a heartfelt goodness that still resonates today. The writers’ room there was a collaborative space where everyone’s ideas were met with respect and we were encouraged to be creative and free—which is, unfortunately, rare in the business. Plus, we laughed a lot.
“We all have a script in our heads of how our lives should go, and I hope this book shows people that they can ‘go off script’ in both big and small ways and still find happiness.”
AWM: The Writers Guild of America recently reached a deal with the studios to end their strike. What are your feelings regarding the strike and why was it important to you and fellow writers to strike? What was at stake?
PL: As the WGA put it, everything was at stake. The issues they were striking over were existential—meaning, the outcome would determine whether screenwriters would even be able to keep doing their jobs. Streaming changed the old TV business model so that writers have been getting paid less and less, while the CEOs of studios have gotten rich. Writers just want to get compensated fairly, like workers in every industry.
The other critical issue in this strike was the use of artificial intelligence. The writers weren’t asking for a ban on AI, but rather, reasonable guidelines around its use. For instance, the new contract ensures that, even if studios use AI to generate a first draft, they must still employ a writer to work on it, paying them and giving them credit. I’m very happy about this outcome, not because I’m anti-technology, but because I don’t believe that AI will ever be able to create art with true heart and soul.
“Writers just want to get compensated fairly, like workers in every industry.”
AWM: If you could meet one American writer from the past—of any genre or medium—who would it be and why?
ABS: Either Judy Blume or David Foster Wallace. Judy Blume was the first author I became a fan of. When I was a preteen, I read all her books and they educated me in ways that I wasn’t getting from my parents or teachers. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was seminal for me, as it was for so many women. I would love to personally thank Judy Blume for that.
David Foster Wallace’s essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, blew me away because it was the first time I’d read nonfiction that had such a distinctive voice—funny, geeky, intellectual, and conversational all at once. He was clearly a brilliant mind and a complicated, troubled person. I imagine talking with him would be endlessly fascinating.