The secret of good comedy writing... is writing

Turn off Twitter for an hour and get creative, says Sally Holloway

What’s the secret of good comedy writing? A perfectly attuned comic brain that can twist every new concept they come across? Natural genius? An inherent sense of being able to tap into the zeitgeist?

How about something more mundane? How about, the secret to good comedy writing is just to sit down for an hour a day, and do it. And how about that hour a day being your first energy of the day. How about an hour a day before you check your emails, your Facebook and your Twitter accounts. How about using your morning energy, your first flush, your get out of bed and face the world vigour to write your comedy.

We have two computers in our house, one big one connected to the internet and one stand-alone laptop. I use the laptop to write. I use it even though it’s less comfortable, because the moment I put the big computer on I cannot help but click the internet connection. My hand does it automatically. And once it’s clicked I think, ‘What harm can checking my emails do?’


This is the harm it does.

It takes your creativity. You are inputting irrelevancies to your brain. You write witty responses to your friend’s updates. You are saying to your brain: This is important. This is what I’m using my morning energy to do.

Try this experiment. Just for one day. Get up and do an hour’s comedy writing before you check your emails. Use a non-internet computer or don’t switch on your hub or just do it long hand.

This will have various effects.

  • Your main creativity will go into your writing. Do this for a few days and you will find yourself waking up ready to work. Waking up with ideas.
  • When you do check your emails, after you’ve done you work, you will enjoy it more. You won’t have that nagging feeling that you should be doing something else, that tingling, churning guilt of another wasted day. /li>
  • You will find yourself writing shorter emails because your creative energy has already been used up. In fact this exercise helps you realise how much energy you were putting in to your cyber life and why, when you sat down to write your jokes afterwards, it seemed so hard.

If you haven’t written for a while and have got out of the habit, sitting down for that first hour on that first day can seem really difficult. I promise you, if you force yourself - and I mean really do it, write out ideas, spin off anything interesting - things will start to flow, and you will feel so pleased with yourself.

A good way to start is to go through all your old notebooks and pick out anything half decent to work on. This will get your brain cranked up and then you can add in a new subject or two.

In fact working on more than one topic at a time can really help, especially if you are easily disheartened. Just put everything you can into the subject at hand and then when your brain feels like it’s exploding, simply move subjects. Do the same with that one and then move on again. Eventually you will arrive back at the first subject. You can look at the work you did previously it will seem much more interesting to read through your own notes.

Think of this, the reason you find it easier to interact with your friends on the internet is that all their Facebook statuses and tweets are providing the setups for you. By keeping copious notes of your own thoughts, you are providing you own setups.

Being a comedy writer means learning to roll with the punches, accept that you’ll have what seem like ‘good’ writing days and ‘bad’ writing days. Some days you are only writing setups, you are only doing the prep, but without those days you couldn’t have the good days.

So how about thinking that any day you put in at least an hour’s comedy writing is a good day. You are doing all you can, and no one can ask more than that.

Comedians joke that they only work 20 minutes a night, adding an hour a day to that isn’t much is it? And make sure you use your first energy of the day, it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as a comedy writer. All the other things I have mentioned here will fall into place when you give yourself not only the time but the mental space to write.

Published: 1 Feb 2012

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.