We write. We rant. We wrestle the magic.
An editor gave Anne Lamott one of the harshest, most helpful criticisms I’ve read about writing and putting the content down on the page. He said, “you’ve made the mistake of thinking that everything that has happened to you is interesting.”
Lamott went on to do just fine as a writer, publishing widely and earning no shortage of praise for her work. That original note, an excerpt from a rejection letter, is still good advice no matter how riddled with douchebaggery it may seem. Not everything we come across, not every scene of our lives, is entertaining to those outside of it. Finding out which of those snippets of the ever-running reel are worth paying attention to is the problem, or maybe that’s the challenge. I forget which. It’s probably both.
It’s Called an Inside Joke for a Reason
Have you ever had the unfortunate task of being in the middle of a group of people who’ve all known each other for a long time? You know they’re speaking English, but the order of their words is all wrong. The punchlines are a run-on of non sequiturs interspersed with wheezing silence. Plastic bag fondue? Why is that funny!? So it goes in life as it does on the page. If you weren’t there, it’s hard to convey the excitement of the moment to a reader…unless you know how to tell a story. Unless the thing that happened is actually interesting.
I’ve tried incorporating inside jokes into my work in the past. Didn’t work, though not for my lack of effort. Don’t get me wrong, I love making my friends laugh, but it seems a little less worth it when the rest of the fanbase does the collective head-scratch at what I’ve put in front of them and called a ‘story.’ Some things are universally funny or east to make fun of: physical comedy, fart jokes, Ann Coulter. The real challenge is finding the spaces in your own life where the funny crap happened, squirreling it away for later use, and not screwing it up when you open the lid on it again.
Your Life Homework for the Week
Try talking to your girlfriend, boyfriend, partner or stray cat about your day. See how long you can keep them engaged and actively listening about that team-building exercise you had to do in the conference room last Friday. Time how long it takes before the lights dim in their eyes, and they start chopping vegetables rather than continue listening. The longer it takes, the better you’re doing.
Photo Credit: Frog Museum2