This week, I’m blogging about and with Patricia Draznin, one of the very best humor writers/essayists I know. Her work is clever, smart, edgy, and unlike anything else I’ve read. So how does a writer like Patricia promote herself? Before I share some of her strategies (and challenges) here’s a little bit of background: Patricia is a corporate writer turned freelancer and, since the mid 1990s, she’s focused on comedy. She writes a humor column in a local weekly in Fairfield, Iowa, called the Oh Zone. She also has a blog page on The Huffington Post. Patricia has studied and performed stand-up comedy as well. The list goes on and here’s part two of my Q&A with Patricia Draznin:
Leslie: You write humor, which is very difficult to do. In fact, I think it’s probably the most challenging kind of writing there is. Do you consider yourself particularly funny? Is being funny even related to the ability to write humor?
Patricia: I’m introverted but I can also be outgoing and funny. My family cultivated a strong sense of humor. We were all quick with the one-liners. But being funny in conversation is different than writing funny. And it’s common for a talented comedian to be socially shy and awkward. The two are not related. One of the humor writer’s most important skills is the power of observation. Maybe that’s why a lot of comedians are actually quiet people. We’re so busy observing.
Writing humor is difficult, you’re correct. I used to feel discouraged that writing funny never gets easier. Until I read a quote from Dave Barry saying how hard it is!
Writing humor is a demanding discipline of reworking the words over and over until they sparkle and snap. For me, the humor emerges in stages and I have to remember to be very patient. I start by writing a straight, un-funny draft, and then I coax the one-liners in my head as I’m re-reading. Eventually, I have a funny first draft. But even if the piece sounds funny to me, it may not sound funny to my readers, which is why I like to workshop with other writers. The words have to be exactly right, not too many, not too few, and in the right sequence. The big bang comes at the end of a sentence, preferably the last word. It’s a craft all its own.
I discovered work shopping during a Masters program in professional writing. Critique is an invaluable tool, especially if you understand how to use it. In some cases, one objection out of ten people is a huge red flag. And then there are times when even several objections can mean the material just needs a small tweak. The writer’s ability to evaluate feedback develops with experience.
I think I’ve always had a natural instinct for writing humor. It’s like a sixth sense. When I watch a movie or TV show or even a commercial, I am automatically evaluating the words. If something doesn’t sound right, I start editing it in my head. Aren’t you glad you’re not me?
I also studied and performed stand-up comedy. Stand-up is a tremendous discipline that cultivates brevity and timing, and teaches us to hide the comedy within a train of thought until just the right moment. And then, like a grenade, we pull the pin and throw, and the audience explodes in laughter.