How to write funnier
👉 or any other "-er" you want
A week or so ago I shared Stephen King’s advice that great writers are voracious readers.
In particular, you should read great examples of the type of thing you want to write. Articles. Newsletters. Whatevs.
But I’ve discovered - especially recently - that reading is not enough.
You have to actually pay attention.
I know that sounds obvious, but I suspect most of us don’t really. Not proper attention.
I certainly didn’t.
Recently I’ve been reading Bird By Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I thoroughly recommend it by the way. It’s one of the few books that’s taught me useful information while making me laugh out loud.
Normally I’d read a book like that and (sometimes) write down the points it made. I’d appreciate the humour, remember it as an excellent book and wish I could write as well as Lamott does.
But this time I did something different. I don’t know why, but for some reason I started actually paying attention.
Whenever I lolled, I stopped and thought about what made me laugh. I tried to deconstruct it to see what I found funny and whether I could do something similar in my writing.
And I took notes.
Sometimes it was about something I already knew about and perhaps should be using more - like the venerable comic triple.
But even if you didn’t already know the technique you could easily figure it out - if you pay real attention.
You’d ask yourself “why did I laugh at that?” and you’d answer “well, it’s because she listed three things and the last one was comically different to the first two”. And you could then google “what’s the technique in comedy where you list three things but the last one is comically different?”.
Google would point you at a Wikipedia article on the rule of three, and a Medium article by Joe Garza on the comic triple. Which would then show you how to use it in your writing.
Other times you might not be able to find the name of the technique but you’d still be able to note what it was and think about how you could use it. Like Lamott’s tendency to interject her own neurotic inner dialogue into an otherwise serious piece of writing.
No idea what that’s called, but when she does it I snigger.
It feels like listening to a scatterbrained friend trying to teach me something but getting distracted by her own thoughts and just splurting them out.
Of course, maybe you’re not looking to make your writing funnier.
Maybe you’re looking to be more persuasive. Or more authoritative. Or more empathetic.
(I think you should be trying to be funnier - but that’s a topic for another day).
Whatever you’re trying to be more of with your writing, Use the same technique.
Read good examples of newsletters, articles and books vaguely related to your field. And whenever you come across something that persuades you or makes you feel like the author is an expert or that the author is someone just like you - start taking notes.
What was it about what they wrote that made you feel that way?
Is that something you could bring to your own writing?
Chances are you could. Thanks to the power of paying a bit of attention.
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