I'm a big fan of stand up comedy. And I firmly believe that humor is to writing what herbs are to cooking. It adds richness and provides a more pleasurable experience to whatever is being "consumed." Which is why I am tickled pink to have you meet Bryan Cohen. A writer, comedian and prolific author. Read on to find out what writers and comedians have in common, in terms of the creative process. Please make him feel welcome today by sharing your thoughts, questions, or comments.
...Now, on to today's "performance."
Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
I loved writing in college. That's why the first few writers block filled years after I graduated were so difficult. I made it my quest to find out more about defeating writers block and sharing that information with others. I started my blog Build Creative Writing Ideas in 2008 and self-published my first book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More in 2010. The book was an Amazon best-seller and I got a teensy bit excited about self-publishing. I now have 32 books on Amazon, including the sequel to my first book which just came out this week!
Comedy has also always been a major part of my work. I started doing improv and stand-up in college and I've always loved hamming it up in front of an audience. Earlier this year, you could have seen me cracking jokes as a contestant on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
How can writers use humor in their writing - regardless of genre? Especially considering that humor is sometimes "subjective."
Humor is disarming. Comedy became important to me when I realized I could use it to diffuse awkward social situations. Humor in writing can be used in exactly the same way. When you have a situation that is about to verge into cliche territory, a well-placed quip can keep your readers on their toes. Humor can also be used to improve the timing of your piece, by breaking up long passages of description or dispersing it throughout your exposition.
It's true that humor is subjective, but you can't please everybody. Joss Whedon, a writer who recently wrote and directed the $1 billion earning Marvel's The Avengers, is known for his quirky and quick-witted characters. That's something that's always been a part of his writing. It doesn't work 100 percent of the time and not everybody likes it. But it makes him laugh. I think you need to trust yourself with humor. If it makes you laugh and it makes some of your readers laugh, you're probably doing it right.
What would you say that writers and stand up comedians have in common?
Aside from both being poor and having 9-to-5 jobs on the side? I think that both writers and comedians have a tough time putting together a long solid block of good material. The best writers have novels that can hold one's attention over an entire 400+ page book. The best comedians can keep an audience in stitches for an hour straight.
Writers and comedians strive to reach those benchmarks. It takes a lot of time and practice to get to those points for both professions. Writers need to read and work on coming up with their own voice. Comedians need to watch other comedians and perform in as many shows as possible.
Both professions can also be extremely lonely, if you let them become so. It can be great for writers to find a group of like-minded souls as much as it can be for a comedian to find a group to laugh and cry with.
What would it surprise others to know about you?
Darn, I already spoiled the Millionaire thing! I once took part in a college stand-up show that opened up for comedian Lewis Black and friends. I was the first comedian of the night and the well-known Daily Show correspondent was the last. I suppose you could say I opened up for Lewis Black.
Do you think that good writers are born or taught?
The best writers are probably born and taught. Good writers, however, can be one, the other or both. If you desperately want to be a writer, but you were born with no discernible writing talent, I believe that you can strong-arm yourself into becoming a good writer. It takes a lot of practice. A lot of reps at the writing gym.
Getting better isn't hard. Getting good is extremely hard. The old Malcolm Gladwell adage of 10,000 hours to expertise applies here. Write three hours a day for 10 years and you'll likely be way better by the end of it all.
How can writers use creative prompts to enhance the writing process and become more productive?
Now we're talking! I believe that we all have a story (or many stories) inside us to tell. I created my new book of writing prompts with that in mind. The prompts cover a variety of different subjects from regret to fame and everything in between. If you are feeling stuck at the beginning of a writing session, you can flip open the book, turn to any page and start answering the prompt you flip to.
But let's say you've already started a story and you're stuck in the middle. No problem. All you need to do is come up with your own set of prompts for the rest of your book. Write down a list of questions related to what will happen next in certain situations, why they'll happen and how your characters feel when its all going down. All you need to do is answer the questions and use your answers as the beginning to each of your remaining chapters.
What quote do you live by?
An oldie but a goodie from Tom Hopkins. "I do the most productive thing possible at every given moment." The best thing about that quote is that the most productive thing may be taking a nap or going to a movie with my wife. It may also mean writing for three hours.
If you had to compare your comedic style to anyone else in comedy, who would it be?
Conan O'Brien. I think you see his comedy best when a joke goes wrong. The way he improvises and makes a dud hilarious is something I find myself doing both on stage and in daily conversations.
What's the most valuable thing you've learned in your creative career thus far?
I learned this one pretty recently, but I feel like it's extremely important for all creative people. Reviews don't matter. Positive reviews are great and all, but if you have to read through any negative reviews to get there, it's almost not worth it. Negative reviews cause you to dwell and question the work you do, when they're frequently written by people who just don't get what you're doing.
From my first reviewed play to my latest reviewed book, I've always let negative reviews boil my blood. I've never gotten anything out of those reviews but pain. I'm making it a point not to read any reviews myself if I can help it.
Anything else you'd like to briefly share?
Thanks so much for having me, Jen! I'd love for your readers to check out my "1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars" contest on my website. Feel free to take a gander at my new book as well. Happy writing everybody!
In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars" Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter!
Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format.
Readers, have you ever used creative prompts to help your muse?
Do you think that humor is an effective technique for today's writer? Do tell.