I always wanted to do standup comedy*. I knew that I’d had to write my own funny stuff. In the process of that learning I took to writing sitcoms**.
I learnt stuff.
Every Writer is Their Own Medicine
I still can’t find where I first read this sentence. But it accelerated my learning.
I took it to mean a) no one else can teach you to write. b) Learn how to write for yourself.
So, I keep a journal of what works for me. From the mundane like the music*** that induces writing, to practical tips like writing at a particular time no matter what.
Writing No matter what means making an appointment with yourself. You set the time, say 4:30pm and as soon as the clock ticks over you write.
Now. Sounds easy. But it’s not. You have to write then for a set amount of time. Say, ten minutes to start and you don’t stop.
You find out a lot about yourself. You’ll repeat words, you’ll write swear word after swear word. Little unconscious thoughts will come out. It’s tough, especially if you do it every day and increase the time.
Stick with it and you learn to write on demand
Ideas – Where do they come from?
John Cleese always used to reply ‘a little shop in Swindon.’
The best thing you can do when you look for ideas is to set yourself a big target. Not five, not ten but fifty ideas.
Give it a go. You’ll learn that the first ideas can work and are the best but if you keep going then the most offbeat ideas will come. That’s where the gold is.
Copying for Learning
You know when you hear a line or read one that really excites you or makes you give an emotional response?
You then sit down and try to write something similar. It often doesn’t work. Imagine you want to write like that person who gave you that emotion.
Copy them. Copy their writing word-for-word.
I mean hundreds of words. You’ll learn how they spend words but you must attend what you are copying. This means concentrating on what you are copying.
Stage two is bringing your ideas and mapping them to how they create a sentence, how they use an idea.
I once copied out a whole episode of a famous sitcom and then mapped my characters to that episode. I learnt so much.
Read your copy out loud
Yes. Really. It’s easier to judge the tone when said out loud and if the words sound natural.
The Gut – a Bonus
If you hear someone say they write from the gut then they’re all right. Have a look around about writing from the gut instead of the heart or the head if you want to learn about writing with true emotion.
Clue: Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing Down The Bones’
5 Tips for Learning to Write Copy
- Keep a journal of what works for you and maintain it.
- Learn to write on demand.
- Generate many, many ideas and expand on the ones with energy.
- Copy the best, word-for-word.
- Read it out loud
*I did standup, a few gigs. Not great but no disasters.
** No sales but shortlisted in a BBC finish the sitcom competition, top 50 out of 5,000 scripts
***The Verve Bittersweet Symphony does it for me. What works for you?
Sources / References
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