100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 21: What I’ve Learned About Humor Writing from Photographers
(And just re-learned today)
By Dave Fox
Wow. After one of those naps that doesn’t quite happen, where you’re so utterly exhausted, you just toss and turn, I just had a pretty exciting writing experience. The bad news, as far as my chances for proper sleep go between now and Tuesday, is that this exciting writing experience meant I just wrote one long story in the time I could have cranked out four or five short ones. And now, I’m down to 17 minutes before my next scheduled blurb needs to be up, so I must write fast now. Please pardon the verbal flab and typos.
Most professional photographers will happily concede, if you press them on it long enough, that while they might have spent years finessing their skills, some of their success comes from a numbers game — particularly in the digital age. If you shoot 36 photos, odds of one breathtaking one are smaller than if you shoot 10,000.
Humor writing — all writing, really — can be similar. You write a lot of mediocre stories and then all of a sudden, you find yourself in a groove. It happens once; you write something better than your norm, and it flows pretty effortlessly. You wish it could always be that natural, but it might be months or years before it happens again with such ease.
In 2006, I woke up one Saturday morning with cobwebs in my head after a pub crawl the night before. As I tried to fall back asleep until my headache passed, an idea for a humor column crept into my thoughts until I could no longer stay in bed, I had to get up and write it. I blasted it out, pitched it to a magazine four hours later, and sold it for more money than I’d ever received for a single article, more money for 700 words than I had just earned in my first paltry year of book royalties.
I was hitting a wall this afternoon. Dizzy fatigue was setting in again. I blasted out some content, got ahead by three hours, chugged some lime juice, and laid down for an ineffective nap.
“If I’m going to be awake, I might as well keep writing,” I thought as failed at napping three hours ago, “so I can still maybe catch eight hours of sleep tonight.”
So I sat back down at my computer, stared at my schedule of what I’ve posted, what I’ve been thinking about writing, what I need to write to keep the variety I’m going for. My original plan with this 100 Hours marathon was to blast out a lot of short humor pieces. Ten hours had past since my last one. That’s what I needed to work on.
I looked at my list of topics. Tried to pick one. Nothing was grabbing me. I didn’t feel like writing humor. I’m very tired.
“Do it,” I told myself.
I scanned my list again. All the ideas I loved when I finalized my list last week all of a sudden seemed to suck.
“Just 400 words. Do it.”
I scanned my list a third time.
“What about that ‘French Girlfriend’ story?” I bickered with myself. “Last week you really wanted to write it. You thought it was a great idea. You were irked you didn’t have time.”
I couldn’t come up with any better ideas. So I began — with the sentence I’d composed in my head last week.
Two hours and nearly 2,000 words later, I’m wondering how I just managed to write what I did.
I haven’t had time to review it. It’s going online later in the roughest of forms — split into two parts over two hours.
As as result, I did not manage to upload six other rush-job pieces that would afford me more sleep tonight. But I’m okay with that. For obvious reasons, I don’t feel much like writing at the moment. I feel like wallowing in bed for 19 hours. Busting out something I really like felt good.
I’m playing the photography game here. I normally aim for around three new web articles each week. A hundred articles in a hundred hours? Something good has to weasel its way into these four-plus days sooner or later.
So stay tuned for the story of my “French girlfriend.” It’s coming in a few hours. And if you’re here for the writing lessons or the contests, keep writing. Even if you are feeling physically crappy or insecure about your skills. Improvement is a gradual process, but along the way, we have rare moments when we’re really in our groove. When it happens, it feels pretty damn good.
I’m also wondering: Are there other areas in life where this numbers game is at play? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Interested in getting started in humor writing yourself? My fun and informative online course is on sale at a big discount for the duration of this “100 Hours of humo(u)r” online party. Find out more here!