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Sunday, April 15

Writing Is Important

Writing is pretty important to me. It's at the heart of everything I've been doing professionally for the last few years. For the vast majority of activities I perform, the inability to string words together on paper or its electronic equivalent would be absolutely fatal. Since a lot of people I deal with largely exist on my screen, the inability to use my fingers to communicate with them via words would render them non-existent.

It's no surprise then that I take a pride in the value of writing. I pitched in to help a friend of mine write his book - a photo of which is to the right here - more information about which is here. Seeing the book in the flesh, so to speak, really makes the efforts of putting it together seem worthwhile. I put my time in because a book well written is a book worth reading.

Over on the Chortle Forums at the moment there is a discussion raging over the writing and crafting of jokes. In short a new writer has come onto the forums to sell their material, and has been met with a number of comedians advising them on how best to get into joke writing and how to set their expectations on how many jokes you need to write to get usable jokes out. Overall, the advice has been pretty pleasant, but I think there's a background of injured pride to the whole discussion.

On the one hand, a bunch of hardened comedians know the rules - you write a lot of jokes, throw loads away, try out the good ones, see loads of them fail, and end up with a 1 in 10 hit rate which you can use. Throwing a lot of material away is tough, especially when you wrote it in the first place, but keeping it for the sake of it is worse. This is how comedy works - it's not quite the same for non comic pieces. Writing the book, for example, we threw words and phrases away, but often kept most of the points we were making.

Then you've got the optimism of a newbie - someone who is keen to give it a go and doesn't want to hear the negatives. They want results fast. This happens with all newbies in comedy and sometimes the youthful exuberance wins, and sometimes it's just bluff and delusion.

The thing is, neither side is capable of understanding the other's points. For the enthusiastic person accepting that they may be wrong is tantamount to giving up. For the hardened experienced person, accepting that the newbie might be as good as they say they are would be detrimental too. How can someone get this right so quickly if we have to slog at it?

Whether it's prose, music or one-liners, though, the creation of the perfect turn of phrase is an art that's much easier to get wrong than get right. It's also very easy to explain why something doesn't work for you, and easy to explain the basic way to make it work, but almost impossible to crystallise techniques for getting it absolutely right every time. In fact, there is no formula for getting it right, you either "hear the music" or you don't.

I like this phrase - "hear the music". It describes the feeling I get when the words are coming out right. It's that quasi spiritual connection with the muse. It's the inspiration being channelled into the perfect combination spontaneously. It's that ability to know good from bad and create something neat.

From most of the advice I've been given, the secret is that there is no secret. Perseverance, time spent, practice and trying out loads of combinations seem to result in success. For every success there's a skip full of "nearly" and "no quite" and "no way".

I've decided to start a Twitter account for jokes - @AshleyJokes which is quite a nice name for it. I think some jokes are very me. I shall probably tweet them.

If you write, then my advice is do it lots, enjoy it, and throw loads of stuff away. Test it out first.

This is what happens when I can't quite get my Edinburgh show written, but feel passionate about writing enough to do something...

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