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Humor Writing Strategies: The Importance of Starting and Maintaining Your Comedy Journal
Humor Writing Strategies: The Importance of Starting and Maintaining Your Comedy Journal


A very large part of the desired result lies in the preparation. Whether the goal or task ahead of you is something physical, mental, emotional or spiritual -- preparation is the key!

Preparation is crucial not only if you desire to accomplish whatever it is within a particular time period but often it makes all the difference as to whether you will accomplish the task, at any degree of expertise, or at all!

So, you may be asking what has preparation and keeping a journal got to do with each other and, more importantly, what have they to do with humor writing -- AN AWFUL LOT!

If you aim to be successful at the writing of humor (whether as a hobby or on a part-time or full time basis) you will need to pay close attention to the level of your preparation – particularly if you wish to appear professional and competent.

IDEAS are the raw material of your craft and there is no way on earth that you will be able to keep more than a few of them in your head at any one time– certainly you wouldn't be able to keep all of the many ideas and concepts (you are going to come up with) in your memory, let alone remember them in such detail and in such order that will fully benefit you.

So you need a tool that not only records but keeps track of your ideas and concepts – plus anything and everything that flows from them.

You will discover that you need to keep track of many more 'bits & pieces' than you ever thought would be necessary when you first considered humor writing. For example, when you perform certain routines, how many times, what additional material or changes may have cropped up as a result of those performances, etc. etc. etc.


Simply defined, a journal is just a book in which a record of transactions, notations, observations or events is kept.

What type and size of journal you use depends on its main purpose and where you are going to keep it. For example, at one stage, I had four journals: a mini-journal which I carried either in my pocket or purse (to jot down ideas whilst on the move), an electronic one, another on my computer, and the fourth one was a rather large book in which I noted all my past, present and future writing projects – when I actually did them, what techniques I used, what weaknesses I came across, etc. Plus an ordinary diary as well, making five in all actually. Too many!

Four is too many, let alone that additional one -- too messy and confusing to say the least. I now keep the absolute minimum only – two. One is my mini-journal (a small ideas book I always have on my person) and the larger book being my main journal and record keeping device.
The Mouse that roared -- i.e. Your (mini) Ideas Journal!

This journal must be small enough to carry either in your pocket, wallet or purse. It's main purpose in life is for the recording of ideas/concepts, thoughts and notations that have a habit of cropping into your mind at the most inconvenient of times (or the best ones do anyway).

This little book has a power way beyond its size and has certainly had a very powerful benefit on my writing. You will go through a number due to their size (I'm on to my 10th for the year so far).

Don't feel you have to reserve your Ideas Journal strictly for the recording of jokes and skits only. To get the full benefit of your journal you shouldn't be too structured or concerned that what you have thought of (to jot down) simply doesn't make sense. There is great benefit to be had from allowing your thoughts to flow freely (that's often when you can come up with your best ideas). A thought for possible inclusion may crop into your mind that just doesn't seem plausible if you stop and think about it. You then wonder whether it's worth putting down or not? If in doubt at all - put it in your journal.

At some other time during the day, you may have another thought that links with the first, and hey, presto! you have a wonderful joke or story. When you are out somewhere (possibly in the Drs waiting room or the supermarket) and reading a magazine or paper, you'll come across at least one or two possible topics – note them in your ideas journal. It's all about brainstorming your thoughts and translating those ideas into wonderful future material.

Later, when you are sitting at your desk reviewing what you have written during the day, that is the time to transcribe your ideas into your main journal. Possibly, you have separate individual folders on different routines or topics? If so, you can tear the sheet out and file it accordingly.

Alternatively you could do what I do sometimes. If an idea particularly appeals to me, I tear the sheet out and place it in a special folder (where I keep items I intend to do a web search on) to see what other ideas I can tease from my original thoughts. It's like trawling for fish – sometimes the little ones lead to the biggies!

Another fabulous benefit you will derive from keeping an ideas journal is that after a short while you will discover that your brain doesn't feel so cluttered and clumsy and, almost seemingly by magic, you will realize that your comic ideas are not only becoming clearer but more plentiful.

Now permit me to ask you a few questions – okay?

Ever thought about using a take-off ramp to increase your creativity level? Would a comic brainstorming device assist you with your humor writing?

Assuming you are a sensible and practical person your answers to both questions would be YES! So, go get your first Ideas Journal AND START USING IT NOW (unless you already have one). Don't put it off until tomorrow!
The Lion that roared -- i.e. Your (main) Work Journal! (How many times you have performed jokes, skits etc, when & details of any performance reviews)

This journal is your best friend. It is the repository for your thoughts, ideas, creativity and comic plans for the future. It's how you keep track of where you've been, where you are now and where you plan to go in the future (especially humor writing wise).

Isn't it only logical to you that all your humor ideas be jotted down for future reference? They may be brilliant – they may not. Whole new topics or sketches may be generated or a punch line thrown up. The point is that once something is written down it can't be forgotten.

So what should you keep in this wonderful journal?

~ Lists of current topics from newspapers or magazines, television, the web, from conversations with people, or something you have overheard. Preferably a separate list to cover each category.

~ Any observations about your comic work and that of others (ie, what you might particularly admire about their routines, where they have appeared and who else they have worked with). Don't neglect to also note what you feel hasn't worked for them and why.

~ A 'quotes' section containing your favorite jokes and quotes from great comics or comedy writers and other statements (from anyone at all, e.g., politicians, ministers, etc.) which you feel where either witty or they could be when mixed with something else.

~ The date, time and frequency of your comic appearances and what jokes and skit material you used and which worked best at that time.

~ Intended writing projects or performances you intend for the future.
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Humor Writing.
Marketing You and Your Material

I love the answer given by a well known comedy writer (think it was Gene Perret) when asked by some 'Newbies' (writers at the beginning of their careers) how to get into humor writing.

And 'getting good at anything' never ever happens over night -- it takes dedication, patience, practice, skill, determination and a good healthy dose of passion for whatever it is you wish to succeed in. Plus, never quitting when the dice rolls against you (and it will some times).

A good example would be the Scottish chef and celebrity, Gordon Ramsay. Being a chef was not Gordon's first choice, soccer was. Due to injury while playing for a top team he had to find somewhere else to direct his passion and skills. Gordon chose food.

He didn't become the highly skilled and gifted chef he is overnight or by just an ordinary commitment to his craft – time and again he was prepared to start at the bottom (after being near the top in a restaurant) again just so he could train with, and be mentored by, a particular chef. He dedicated thousands of hours honing his skills and on a number of occasions came near to defeat, losing just about everything he had. But his commitment (some say obsession) to succeed guaranteed that he would ultimately reach the amazing heights he has.

Did Gordon Ramsay stop at that stage, no, he just set new goals, becoming better and better and he's still doing so, therefore enhancing his skills and experience in new and bolder ventures in the food and restaurant industry. You will need to make a similar commitment.

The Correct Attitude

The correct attitude to have is to first make the decision to succeed, then plan how you are going to go about doing it (while at the same time leaving your plans flexible and open to change). Then commence to do everything you need to do to prepare yourself for the challenges ahead.

Preparation is crucial. Subsequently, you just keep going until you do succeed whereupon you commit to simply keep on improving and enhancing your skills and ability.

Don't do what losers do – waiting around for that big break to happen! Breaks don't just happen, you have to make them happenwith your hard work and dedication!
Believe in YOU!

Belief in yourself is ALL IMPORTANT.

You can most certainly develop that self-belief if you don't have it already. Many people will tell you that just simply believing you can do something doesn't actually mean that you can do it. And they are absolutely correct – it doesn't. BUT, if you don't believe you can do something at all you'll never have the confidence to learn how and carry through with the action necessary. In other words, you need to believe you can, and will, learn how to write terrific humor!

When you have written and rewritten, rehearsed and re-rehearsed your material and had the experience of several performance reviews (even if from only from friends) that is when you commence to market yourself and your material.
Perfect your skills

There is only one way to perfect your skills – that is through experience. You can practice and review but the one true way is through 'doing', i.e. experience. That's all very well you might say, near impossible even when people are looking for experience comics or comic writers only – how do you get the experience if people are reluctant to give you a chance?

That leads to our next segment AND THAT IS – WORKING FOR FREE.

Don't forget one important factor though, there is never only one path to success as a writer. Your path shall be made up of bits and pieces that are different than anyone else's. So keep your mind open for the opportunities that may come to you from totally unexpected sources along the way.

The positive side of working for free

We have also touched on 'working for free' elsewhere but the subject really does call for some repetition as it has a crucial role to play in your possible future success as a writer.

I have believed in the past that if a prospective client or employer is going to make money out of the work I do for them for free, that I should not work for them and have advised others to apply the same attitude. I was wrong. This type of attitude is very short-sighted and most certainly counter productive to your interests. Unfortunately, one of the unpleasant realities of being creative is that all too often people think your job (and the creative process) is easy. These people have no problem at all usually asking you (the writer) for 'freebies'. It's your job to re-educate them. How you do it is a very personal thing, depending on who they are, how long you've know them, etc, (and to be realistic about what they can possibly do to help your future comedy writing career).

Some jobs are just great for a struggling writer's portfolio and the right contacts are solid gold. So if the right (free) job comes along that shows off your creative ability, it can be well worth doing. So do yourself a favor, don't automatically say "No", and keep an open mind to the opportunity that may be there.

If you do choose to work for free, make sure they realize that they are lucky to have obtained your services. Advise them about how much you would normally charge for your work, adding however that on this occasion (for such and such a reason – make one up if you need to) you are prepared to help them by doing it for free.

Don't be cocky about it, but subtly ensure that they realize you are not to be taken advantage of. The prime goal is to win friends and influence people, so that you get your foot in the door (and once you do so, to make sure it stays there!).
Sidestepping disappointment

You are much less likely to experience early disappointment and rejection if you don't start out too high by sending your material to the top, higher paying and exclusive markets first. Okay, the money might be great but your chances of success are much greater if you start out by approaching the easier markets -- such as local newspapers and magazines etc -- first.

These local markets don't pay much but isn't it much better to get your first, second and third paid jobs, than still to be waiting for the big pay-off, six or twelve months later?

To my mind, there is no better morale booster than that first sale or two.
Writing Seminars
Writing seminars and workshops are not only places where writers gather to learn, improve and work, they are networking points. You can never be quite sure of when a colleague at a workshop or seminar is in a position to themselves utilize your services, give you a helping hand or refer a contact to you. Alternatively, you may pick up a great marketing idea from one of your fellow attendees.
Marketing YOU -- not just your material

From babyhood we have all been 'marketing' or 'selling' something (whether we realized it or not). Now before you say "that's ridiculous" stop and think. What does a baby get when it smiles and gurgles -- ATTENTION! When it cries or screams -- ATTENTION or FOOD! And so it goes through childhood.

The fact of the matter (and again whether we realize and admit it or not) we are always 'marketing' ourselves, in one way or another, all through our lives. Don't all of us make a special effort when we want something or someone enough? That is we are 'marketing' our desires and 'selling' ourselves.

When marketing your comedy material you need to be very aware thatyou are actually a crucial part of that marketing: How you come across. How you present yourself. Are you likable as a person?

You need to tell me what you are doing (whether it be writing or performing comedy). This first point may seem obvious to you, but believe it or not, a fair number of people still don't bother to let people know that you are actually in the humor writing business. Word of mouth, not surprisingly, is a fabulously effective form of promotion.

A fair percentage of people though feel disinclined to talk about themselves, let alone talk themselves up. Many of us were taught while growing up that it's simply not nice to talk about yourself. There's a big difference in promoting your talents and skills to empty boasting and bragging – note that.

You are the one who must initiate the flow of opportunities towards you. The hard truth is if you don't feel you are inclined to promote yourself no one else is going to feel inclined to do so either! Neither would they be inclined to buy what you are selling!
DON'T be afraid to stand out in the crowd!
Consider doing a promotional piece or press release (about your services) and send it to your local newspaper. This may be a small start but good humor copy is in demand as it is also rare. Once your material is noticed other assignments will undoubtedly follow.
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