Sunday, August 20, 2017

Stupid Can Be the Writer’s Friend


When 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?”
Then 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.
He 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.
Imagine 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?”
Now 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.
A 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.
It’s 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 underway.
So 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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

How to tame yourself to understand your writerly friend...

 Ok here are some more rules on how to tame your writer and turn yourself into a friend to one:
  1. Yes, 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.
  2. Just 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!
  3. Whether they are getting paid for it or not, writing is a writer's job. They treat it like one, and so should you.
  4. A writer can’t teach you to write, so stop asking them.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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...