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Clearing the Mind to Write Comedy: 5 Helpful Tips [43017]

By October 16, 1981July 16th, 2023Articles
[Editor’s Note: ROUND TABLE Publisher Gene Perret once revealed, in a letter to a beginning comedy writer, some of his tricks for clearing the mind when writing comedy — and–voiding what sometimes is called “writer’s block.” Here are excerpts from that highly useful advice. In many respects, it can apply to ALL writers – but Gene says it’s still especially useful for comedy writing.]

            So you’ve hit a mental block with your writing. You have so much to do, you’re keeping such a blistering pace, you don’t know where to start first.

            I know how you feel. Everyone gets up to their neck and other parts of the anatomy in alligators. I have five secrets that I apply whenever I reach the snapping alligator stage, and I generally apply them in this order:

1. RELAXATION: As long as you’re worried about all your problems, that worry will joke out your thinking processes. It’s like blanking out on a test. I once took a test at college in a subject I was well-versed in. I fully expected and deserved a 100 on it. But when I read the first question, I panicked. I sat there and stared at the thing until the full test time was nearly over. A friend whispered to me, “Write what I tell you.”

            I did and got 100 on the test. When I looked at the questions later, they were so simple I could have gotten 200 – but I worried and blocked my mind.

            You can shake that feeling by doing anything that’s a diversion for you. Read a book, watch TV, do exercises, whatever relaxes you. I’ve been up to my tail in work, but I just walked out the door and went to a movie. Then I’d come home relaxed and find time to do my work.

2. PLANNING: All big jobs are nothing but a much of small jobs tied together in a common package. A little time spend in planning your work will save you quite a bit of time in executing it.

            I did this writing a book on being a Catholic. I decided to try for two chapters a day. I sat down to write about “practicing for Holy Communion.” I sat and looked at blank paper. No results. I did a line or two but not nearly enough to complete a routine. Then it dawned on me: PLAN the routine. What about Holy Communication? Okay, we spend so much time in church, the nun demanded perfection, we had to wear white, we had to repeat the steps over and over again, and it took all our free time. I did five jokes on each subject and had my routine written in less than two hours.

3. CONCENTRATION: You have to devote your energies thinking about the problem at hand. If you can’t, then it’s time for that relaxation. Take a break, clear your mind, and then come back…and concentrate.

            In my work, I find it easier to concentrate if I visualize. Close my eyes and actually see myself in church with that nun practicing to make my First Holy Communion.

            Planning helps you concentrate. Spending time planning helps you to pinpoint your concentration. When you concentrate on too large an area (like trying to solve a crossword puzzle all at once), your mind can’t contain it and it wanders. So planning and concentrating actually complement one another.

4. REMEMBERING: I’ve gabbed a lot about how you must believe a goal to accomplish it. The same applies here. Believe you can get done what you want to get done in order to get it done. Do this by remembering you did the same thing in the past. You visualize your past successes, then calmly set about doing it again.

            Example: When I was in industry, writing jokes for banquets and 25-year parties, I would close my eyes and visualize myself before the crowd. The crowd was just broken up with laughter, as they always had been. This picture alone was enough to make the jokes come.

5. STEALING TIME: Do a little bit of your work when you’re busy doing nothing. Then when it comes time to do the work, it’s already started.

            For instance, if I know I have to do a routine for Bob Hope about the President, I’ll think about it when I’m shaving…think about it as I’m getting changed…think about it lying in bed. Maybe I’ll get an idea or a joke. It’s happened that I’ll get out of bed and do a whole routine, then I can take the next day off. Your most creative work is often done when you think about a problem lightly and then consciously forget it. That’s when your subconscious works on it diligently. When you call it to your conscious mind again, the problem may be solved.

            Doing what you want to do is fun. Relaxing, planning, concentration, remembering and stealing time – they’re five secrets that can stave off the snapping alligators for many writers. They work for me.