Monday, December 29, 2014

What I Learned from My Year of Writing Too Many Jokes

As part of my New Year's resolutions for 2014, I committed to writing 2,014 jokes in addition to those that I write for columns or as part of my stand-up comedy sets. (Apparently I was high on Dayquil when this year began.) I also pledged to post many of them on FB and Twitter, just to hold my feet, uh fingers, to the fire, as it were.

Here it is December 29th, 2014 and I only have two more jokes to write, so clearly this resolution was easier for me to keep than "Try to like kale" and "Call mom."

As writers, we often set quotas for ourselves or sign onto quota-based exercises such National Novel Writing Month (nanorimo), the A to Z challenge for flash fiction, or Write 1000 Words for Every Piece of Chocolate You Consume. Some people swear by these challenges, while others end up curled up in the fetal position under their desks weeping silently into the carpet.

Either way, there is always something to be learned. For me:

  • The ratio of "things I'm proud to have written" to "things that horrify me and I will take with me to the grave" is about 2:1. Most fell somewhere in between.
  • Although I am more productive in the morning, I am funnier and more creative after the sun sets. This is not due to drinking, if that's what you're thinking.
  • The work I am fondest of is not necessarily the work that gets the most "likes" or "retweets."
  • Although I pride myself on being relatively clean, relatively nice, and relatively awake most of the time, I certainly have a mean girl in me. (Note to self: explore this by writing e-mail to cable company.)

  • When I get on a roll, I should go with it, even if it's late and The Daily Show is coming on any minute.
  • As much as I hate organizing my writing, after I do so my headspace is clearer and I get more done, damn it!
  • That B.A. in political science really paid off because of the midterm elections!
  • Don't write jokes suggested by friends and followers. Just don't.
  • Although certain styles of comedy writing are easier for me when writing my monthly humor columns and my books, this exercise has taught me that I have strengths in other areas as well. Who knew?
  • Good writing is rewriting. I already knew this, but even in the few seconds it would take to cut and paste a joke from my word file to Facebook, I would think of ways to make it better.
Next time you challenge yourself to quota-based writing, spend some time afterward writing down what you learned. That lesson may just make you a better writer. Or, it will cause you to go buy more chocolate... and either is a good thing.

Leigh Anne Jasheway is a comedy writer whose latest books are 101 Comedy Games for Children and Grown-Ups and Date Me, Date My Dog. She's working on a new collection of columns to be called Don't Laugh--You'll Wake the Dog.

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