Someone called me a humorist the other day. (Who knows? They might’ve just been humoring me.) But I did recently publish what’s supposed to be a humor book of stories based on my childhood, and I was certainly trying to be funny, and I’ve had plenty of people say that the book made them laugh, so if that makes me a humorist, what the heck?
I don’t think of myself that way, though. I’ve written for a long time. I’ve published a lot of nonfiction. I’ve written for Sports Illustrated, Sport, Boys Life, and a bunch of other magazines. I’ve written 12 books for children that not even my kids have read all the way through. (In their defense, most of them were written as parts of school curriculum packages, and what kid wants to read those?) So I don’t consider myself anything more than a storyteller.
Maybe I shouldn’t say it like that. I think being a storyteller is one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing, or telling stories around the dinner table, or hanging out with friends in someone’s backyard around a fire on a summer evening – I’ve always loved to tell stories. And when pressed to think about how I write humor for this blog, I realized that’s all I really try to do – tell a story and let the humor fall where it may.
Every writer has a different approach. One of my best buddies, Judith Post, has always been a meticulous planner and plotter of her fiction. I know other writers who simply start with a character and follow them around, trusting that in the writing, they’ll fall into some semblance of a storyline. I’ve known writers who try both approaches (and normally write themselves into a literary pretzel).
For me, I don’t think about any of that stuff. I used to, of course, back in the days when writing could be a struggle and it seemed like work to meet your quota of words each day. But finally a magical thing happened: I wrote long enough, hard enough, and even poorly enough to “suddenly” find my voice. And that’s when writing became not only easier but more fun. That’s also when I started to think I might be a decent writer after all.
So when people ask me the key to writing funny – or writing poignantly, or writing angrily, or writing sadly – I can only tell them this. Yes, there are techniques that I’ve learned along the way, and hopefully I’m smart enough to use them effectively. You do learn something about craft when you write for a living for as long as I did. But none of that is the key to writing funny. The key is just to be a storyteller, and to tell stories that you find funny.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. (Go ahead – sit at the computer and tell yourself to write something funny. Not easy to do.) Just make sure you’re writing a story that you want to tell, and that you’d like to have told to you. Then quit thinking and just write it. (Don’t worry, you can fix the mistakes in the second draft.)
When you’re able to do that, you’ll discover something more important than how to be funny or how to write horror that scares people or mysteries that challenge your readers. You’ll discover your writing voice. And just like that, you’ll be the storyteller you were meant to be.
(C.W. Grody has published 13 books and hundreds of articles to national magazines. His latest book, Since Before You Were Born, is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Since-Before-You-Were-Born-ebook/dp/B00EHT3B5G.)