Even during those meetings when the smartest thing to do is remain quiet, I usually just can’t do it. The good thing is that, as a writer, I know I am not alone. Tina Fey admits much the same in her bestseller, Bossypants, wherein she speaks candidly about speaking up. Generally, as writers, we do not have the luxury of waiting for direction to come to us; we have to go to it. And that brings me to my point: Writers are expected to further the discussion, the concept, or the strategy beyond where others leave it. This isn’t about raising your hand with a “but...” Leave that to the dazed and confused account executive. The word “And” should always lead to another thing …
Near the close of Bossypants, Fey talks about the importance of “me time” activities in her life as mother with a newborn baby. It seems to me the more ideas and viewpoints you feed yourself, the better off your writing will be.
- Don’t be afraid to make statements. Fey writes that improvisers who only ask questions put unnecessary pressure on others to come up with all the answers. Writers are continually put on the spot by those who rhetorically comment, “What are we going to do about this?” when the actual translation is, “What are YOU going to do about this?” Don’t answer a question with another question. Leave it to the guy with the corporate hair and shoes to stand mute.
- There are no mistakes, only opportunities. Fey points to any number of examples where a weak premise turned out to be a stunningly brilliant comedy routine. Some of my favorite SNL routines were essentially “one-joke-wonders” that didn’t start out all that funny, yet became that way through absurd repetition, i.e., “You like 'da juice? Da' juice is good, ahh.” Anything can be made better up to the minute it goes “live.”
- “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30 pm.” In Fey’s view, this oft-repeated quote from Lorne Michaels offers “a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing.” Her message is that, “You have to try your hardest and be at the top of your game and improve every joke until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.”
Nurture over nature? Perhaps, and a whole lot more.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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