What is the best piece of advice you ever got about how to get better at writing?
For me, it wasn’t so much a piece of advice as it was a self-realization. I got better at writing (much better, in fact) by reading books that we were written by comedians… and that’s no joke. Just this past week, I finished reading Tina Fey‘s book, Bossypants and I’m currently in the middle of Adam Carolla‘s In Fifty Years, We’ll All Be Chicks (yes, I realize the polar opposite sides of the comedic galaxy that these two geniuses orbit). It’s not just about dick jokes or how these people scrapped and fought to get their ideas out in front of an audience (but those were also powerful business and marketing lessons), it’s in the creation of the words, the flow of the story and how ultimately, it all leads up to some kind of punchline (by the way, not all of the punchlines are funny. In fact, the best lessons often come from the more serious, smart or heartfelt conclusions).
There is truth in comedy.
Marketing is about telling a story. Brands all have narratives. Great advertising tells an amazing story. Great writing is the ability to grab and keep an audience’s attention. Nobody knows how to construct and move an audience more than a comedian. From improv groups to telling jokes on stage and from writing bits for morning radio to trying to sell an idea on Saturday Night Live, if these people don’t know how to grab an audience’s attention, who does? In the past, I’ve read books like Steve Martin‘s Born Standing Up and Dennis Miller‘s The Rants – again, two very different books that both helped me to realize that great stories need to have a unique personality (or voice) leveraged with references that will help the audience understand the story on a personal level.
It’s not always the content… sometimes it’s just the style.
The generalization is this: the best comics are even better writers. They spend time tinkering with each word, the punctuation, the flow and how it all comes together. The difference between a joke that kills and one that dies can be the placement of a comma or the use of an adjective. It is subtle and it is nuanced. If comedians know this and constantly focus on writing and re-writing a joke or story until it’s perfect, it’s equally important for writers, Bloggers and Marketers to do the same.
The big trick.
The best piece of writing advice is not to read the jokes of comedians. The best piece of writing advice is to read the books that these comedians have written. Writing a book is a beast of a job. It’s the concentration effort and flow that these comedians are putting into their books that will give you a much better appreciation for what it takes to be a great writer (and yes, I also realize that some books written by comedians are weak and boring, so guide yourself accordingly).
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?