A frequently quoted ‘rule’ for writing is to write something every day. No matter if it’s good. No matter if it’s bad. Set yourself a window – anything from ten minutes to every waking moment – and sit in front of a screen or an empty piece of paper and write. The idea being if you do this each day, a habit forms and something good will come. As advice goes, it sits up there with ‘sometimes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut’.
Writing isn’t a natural thing for us as a species. For most of evolution, nobody wrote anything – fair enough there’s the odd cave drawing that historians insist are early attempts at storytelling. On that basis, bus-seat sharpie-penned pledges of Kazza luvs Jez carry equal value.
Writing for many years was the preserve of the elite. Even now, it remains a strange way to communicate.
When I stand on a stage and tell jokes, I see faces. The feedback is instant and I sense when an audience needs me to clarify or drop planned patter and jump to another topic. When I write a story, my words vanish into a void. Short of the occasional Amazon review, I don’t know who reads my books or how much they understand of the worlds I create.
Writing short set-ups
I try to find something interesting and point it out. I’ll ask you to look at someone or something and understand the flaws and persuade you that what I see is of interest. When learning the language of stand-up comedy, I picked up on how the shortest set-up works best. If a comic needs to explain the premise, chances are it’s unfamiliar.
It’s not the job of a writer or comedian to ram information into the brains of an audience.
The worst writing (and comedy) happens when those in charge abandon ‘joint attention‘ in favour of trying to sell their audience into an idea or world. It’s incredibly hard to do surreal comedy or writing and do it well.
Some of the worst writing advice is to create words for yourself and never consider the audience. For me, the audience comes first. I am part of the audience, but I’m also aware when what I find funny might be too personal. I’m not here to impress with clever plot twists or elaborate language and don’t care what you think about me. I’m not in the book. When I’m on stage telling jokes, you see a version of me.
What I aim to do is point out what’s there … if you look in the right places.
This is how we function as humans. Side-by-side we scan those around us, our landscape, the absurdity and improbability.
It’s my job to point things out.