The writing process – i.e. How do ya get yer blog so dern funny?

I get a lot of polite comments about my writing style. Sometimes people say “insightful”, often they say “accessible”, occasionally they say “Where’d you learn your grammar? The jungles of New Guinea?” But mostly they say I’m funny.

I’m perfectly happy with this. Foremost because being funny can excuse one from all kinds of embarrassing shortcomings and boy do I have a lot of those. Also, I believe that making something funny will draw in the reader and get them interested, no matter what the topic. If Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” was funny, I’d have probably taken the time to read it by now, but it’s not so screw ’em. And if only those high school, history text books had some humor sporadically inserted in them, maybe I’d know when the American civil war took place (1492, right?).

I’m also often told that my writing seems like it flows rather quickly, particularly the material that appears in this blog. People reading my posts get the impression that I dash off each blog entry in one high speed train of thought and zip-zop I’m done in less than 20 minutes I can go back to playing online poker naked and eating Nutella right out of the jar. I even hear this from other writers, who should know better.

In fact, my writing style is agonizingly time consuming, whether I’m editing the Yawnfest Cut of an article about growth industries in Bratislava or trying to say something witty about Bush, which you’d think wouldn’t be that difficult, but you’d be surprised.

The main reason behind this is that I’m still relatively new to professional writing and I’m just not as naturally fluid as someone who’s had training, actually knows the Rules of Writing off the top of their head and/or has simply been doing it long enough to draw on priceless experience. Since I have none of these advantages, I’m left to just kind of muddle along, rearranging words until I think I’ve found ample humor and something approximating the grammatical optimum, and then send it in for editors to sob over.

Additionally, I’m easily distracted. This is one of the reasons why I hide out in obscure places, like northeast Romania or an abandoned vacation village on Sardinia. If I had immediate access to friends, good TV or girls with English as a first language I’d never get anything done. Hell, my compulsive emailing alone can eat up half a day. But even when a project has my full and, for what it’s worth, undivided attention, I still struggle.

So you can get an intimate idea of what it’s like to be me – fully clothed this time, I swear – here’s roughly what I go through every time I have a writing project:

Step One; I just get the facts down. If any dazzlingly witty material should pop up in the process, fantastic, but usually this draft is dull, unfunny drivel.

Step Two; I reread and edit for coherence, usually accompanied by the occasional spontaneous zinger.

Step Three; this is the part where I get all hopped up on caffeine and sugar and kick out the funny, going through the entire piece, sentence-by-sentence, applying my frenzied, comic brain splatter.

Step Four; I let the material ‘marinate’ for several days, while I reward myself with wine.

Step Five; I go back and cut out the ‘humor’ that only juvenile people on sugar benders would find funny.

Step Six; I tweak and edit until I go blind, invoking the full extent of the grammar rules that I remember from fourth grade.
 

When I reach the point where I wanna scream like a Robbie Williams fan, delete everything I’ve written since 1995 and discus-throw my laptop off the tallest building in town, I’m done.

It ain’t easy, but hey, when has being a literary genius ever been easy?

A blog entry may take several days. That insufferable Lonely Planet gig tested my absolute upper limits of focus and ability, dragging on for a cumulative six months – broken up by several intervals for nervous breakdowns and days long moonshine comas. Even on projects where I’m paid a dollar a word, in the end I just barely earn minimum wage (in Guatemala) for the time invested.

So the illusion has been publicly dispelled. This blog isn’t just an on-command, spontaneous brain-dump, rattled off between naps. In truth, it’s a sizeable part of my weekly routine – except when I copy and paste a bunch of the text from existing material, like I did today, then it really does take about 20 minutes.

Back to the Nutella.

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