Louis C.K. hosted Saturday Night Live recently he began his stand-up
monologue with the oldest, dumbest joke in the world. “Why did the
chicken cross the road?”
he went on to turn that rather lame beginning into a smart commentary
on racism. “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because there was a
black guy walking behind him. And he was nervous. He was new to the
city, this chicken. And he was, like, I feel like he’s following me but
I’m not sure.” And so the monologue continued, using deft humor to
disarm us just long enough to take a hard look inside our own hearts and
see what might be lurking there. It was a nice piece of writing.
was also using one of my favorite tricks as a writer. If brilliance
isn’t happening, if you find yourself staring endlessly at a screen
empty of anything but a blinking cursor, just write something stupid to
get you going.
Louis C.K. trying to figure out what to write for his big moment on the
SNL stage. It would be enough to seize up any writer’s mental wheels.
So finally, he starts with something any second grader could have come
up with. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
he’s no longer sitting there worrying over an empty page. He can get to
work pounding the keyboard, connecting that random opening line to a
smarter second one. And then another. Most often when I’m working like
this the stupid first sentence disappears altogether as the piece takes
shape. Occasionally, like the SNL monologue, I can find a tension
between a dumb set-up line and the smarter material that follows and use
that to make the writing interesting. In the end either way works. The
point is, sometimes you need to sneak up on brilliance. Just get the
writing moving. Then you can see what develops.
few years ago I spoke to a group of co-workers about creativity. One of
the best slides in my Powerpoint was, “Make Stupid your Friend.” Under
that heading I listed four thoughts.
-Stupid makes us human.
-Stupid is easy. It gets the lid on the jar loosened up.
-Stupid allows you to go places you shouldn’t and see what happens.
-You might be able to bend a stupid idea 10% and suddenly it’s brilliant.
probably not a method you’ll find taught in many college writing
classes. But when I need unfettered creativity I’ve found that writing a
fast, dumb line to start it off is one of the best tricks I know to
take the pressure off my brain. I can always steer things in a more
high-minded direction later on, once the real work of writing gets
if you find yourself with brow furrowed and head in hands trying to
think up some profound way to start out your next piece of writing, give
something stupid a try instead. You might like what happens next.
Ok here are some more rules on how to tame your writer and turn yourself into a friend to one:
by all means you can tell your writer something in confidence! Tell them about your
sex life, what color your poop was, and that crazy embarrassing thing
that happened to you...just realize that they are going to use it all in their
writing at some point and there is nothing you can do about it. Once
it’s in the writer’s imagination, there’s no erasing it.
like a Facebook status you see, not everything a writer writes is about you.
Don’t assume that it is, it’s probably not. It’s probably about
something completely unrelated to you, if you’re not sure, or you are
curious, just ask your writer!
Whether they are getting paid for it or not, writing is a writer's job. They treat it like one, and so should you.
A writer can’t teach you to write, so stop asking them.
Writers are writers because they absolutely love words. They love how a certain word
can completely change the meaning of a sentence, of a conversation, or
of a story. If you are talking to a writer you should think about every word
you’re saying, because they are going to and if you use one that hurts their
feelings they will store that information away for a very long time and
study it in their writerly mind.
When a writer isn’t writing, when a writer
cannot write for whatever reason, it causes a very physical and
extremely emotional response in that writer. Writing is their therapy and
their demon, all at the same time. If the writing is bottling up inside of them, then there’s a problem. They will be moody, they will be emotional, they may
even be downright bitchy. Writers don’t mean it so don’t hold it against them. Writers
just need to write again and then they will feel better!
At a party, or
any large gathering, writers might choose to sit off to the side and simply
watch what’s happening. It absolutely does not mean they are not having a
good time, or that they want to leave. As writers they are always studying
people, painting the scene in their mind so they can retell it later in their
writing and save it, retell it to someone who hasn’t seen what they have
seen. As writers, they are an observer and that’s where your writer is the happiest!
For further reading on how to become a writerly friend and tame a writer I suggest reading the scene of the little Prince and the fox by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944). He really meant to call the fox "writer" but it just didn't go with the story...
Being friend to a writer can be really challenging.
Not because they are mean people but because in general - well they live in a different world than you!
So sometimes its hard to reach them (Cellphones don't really work on other planes or in other worlds and times!). But once you get through writers are really nice and worth trying to be friends - after all not too many of your friends can take you through magic gateways and introduce you to imaginary friends, right?
So here are a few rules to keep in mind when trying to get a writer accustomed to you:
Sometimes your writer friend will space out, or stare off into
space while you’re talking. You cannot take offense to this, they are not
ignoring you or bored by your story (okay, in fairness they might be
bored by your story I don’t know for sure) but more likely they are daydreaming a new story they want to write, or a scene they want to
create, or even a blog post they are dying to write.
going to tell your writer friend a story you must proceed the story by
saying “You can/cannot use this...”if you don’t specify, then we will
assume that it’s up for grabs and you may see your story in a future
blog post, or story that we create. When we write it, we might not even
remember that we got the idea from you, so you really need to tell us
whether it’s on or off limits. The responsibility is all on you, are we
Accept that writer friend may want to write about you all the
time. Or never at all. Or a combination of both, at completely random
and unexpected times. Writers can’t predict it, why should you be able to?
should understand that while writers may seem to be listening to you
intently, really they are mentally recording this entire conversation in their
memory so that they can use it later for their own creative purposes.
that while writers appreciate your helpful ideas, they might not be able to use
them all in their writing. It doesn’t mean they aren’t great ideas (Okay,
again it might mean they’re not great I don’t know...) but it just means they can’t make it work for what’s sparking their creativity at the moment.
Don’t take offense, it’s not you, it’s their muse!
If writers tell you
that they are unable to do something because they are writing it doesn’t mean that
they don’t want to do what you’re asking them to do, it just means that they really are -
writing! Writing isn’t like a job where you clock in and clock
out. Sometimes if they put it aside, when they come back the spark, the idea,
the inspiration is gone like a puff of steam on a cool night. If the
story is coming now, then now is when writers have to write it!