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Write Like A Clown: Wisdom from The Onion's Scott Dikkers
Inside every creative person, there lives a clown.
The clown is a child at heart. It wants to have fun and is overflowing with ideas.
It’s also a prankster. It’s irreverent. Rules be damned, the clown does whatever it finds amusing.
The problem, though, is that not everything the clown finds amusing is amusing to others.
Ugh. Another balloon dog? This guy sucks.
Even worse, sometimes the clown has completely insane ideas. They scare people. They’re weird. Did this guy just pull 18 feet of rope out of his throat? Sometimes the clown creeps everybody out.
If the clown had a normal day job, his manager would probably drug test him. Frequently.
Clowns need editors
But, creative people also contain within themselves an editor.
Editors are not clowns.
They are calm, collected, judging figures with killer tastes and precise opinions.
Whereas clowns produce a fountain of new ideas, an editor can pick the one that matters and has a clear vision of how it can be improved.
From Scott Dikker’s short book How To Write Funny (Dikkers was the editor-in-chief of The Onion for two decades):
The Editor is the left side of the brain: logical, objective, organized, and analytical.
Whereas clowns are responsible for prolific, uncontrollable creative output, editors are responsible for extracting the diamonds in the rough.
Without clowns, there are no diamonds.
Without editors, diamonds remain unearthed.
Clowns and editors: the ultimate frenemies
The problem, then, is obvious: these two characters cannot co-exist peacefully.
If a clown behaves like an editor, they’ll get nervous, second-guess their work, and fail to produce much of anything.
From How To Write Funny
Most writers are too much of an Editor. Instead of trusting their instincts, they question every choice, and judge every idea before it has a chance to shine.
As I wrote the first draft of this post, I had to fight the urge to go back and edit my work. Every time I did, it broke my flow and had to claw my way back to “clown mode.”
Creative work begins with the clown
So, when we start something new, the clown must be given free rein.
The editor should be tied up, blindfolded, and locked in an adjacent room. If he attempts to escape, a couple of large Russian men should clamp jumper cables to him and ominously point towards a big switch on the wall.
Once you have an idea that you like, be it for something big or small, it’s time to put on your Clown hat again and write a first draft.
Lady Gaga once said that's exactly what she does when she writes new songs:
"When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time."
While few of us may like to think of ourselves as "clowns," it's the exact identity we may need to take on when we want to create something new.
Speaking of which... this first draft is done.
Untie that editor.