Making Dreams Come True for Comics and Speakers since 1984
  Judy Carter's Comedy Workshops  

Turning a Mess into Success

I have a speech tomorrow, and last night it kept me up all night. I always have that level of anxiety with new material, because so much of it sounds unfunny and disorganized. All sorts of new ideas are scattered around in my head and on scraps of paper, and it's a true mess. Seeing that mess fills me with frustration and anxiety -- because of the looming gig on my calendar that demands it not be such a mess.  

But -- what comforts me is to realize that all of our successes start out as messes. And the people who succeed have the willingness to navigate their way through the mess to find the great material that's hidden within.

There's nothing as unfunny and un-fun as writing a speech or writing a comedy. Remember how on Seinfeld, Jerry and George would brainstorm ideas for their "show about nothing" -- and everything came easily and made us laugh?

In the real world, writers are often frustrated, anxious, doubtful, and frequently find themselves staying up past midnight staring at a laptop and guzzling pitchers of coffee, desperately hoping something will come to them other than the awful first, second, and third drafts they've been staring at for hours.

So many people want to write a book, do standup, or be paid as a speaker, but give up too quickly because they're weighed down by the feeling that every idea has to be perfectly formed in their head BEFORE they start typing it.

In my New York weekend workshop, everyone learned that material doesn't come out of you fully formed like a newborn colt that can just leap to its feet and gallop. New material comes out raw and unformed, and most of the time just lays there like a baby bird, until with rewrite after rewrite, you finally feed it enough that it can fly.

So don't paralyze yourself with the need to be perfect. The only need is to start. And whether you're writing your story, an act, a speech, it doesn't matter how you start; just start -- and commit and nurture and parent that idea, until it gradually takes on a life of its own.

25 comments:

Van Brown said...

Hey Judy, I agree that humor is hard work, and especially if you're writing it without the benefit of having your intended audience there to tell you when certain bits work, and don't work. Best to you as always,

Oscar Wildedog said...

Judy, regarding writing jokes, speeches and presentations - something I've done pretty regularly in my "second life" as a comedian - I feel just the opposite. That is, ideas come in torrents to me and, strangely enough, in fairly good draft form the first time I write them down. Perhaps it's because my second career started over 30 years after my first one started, I don't know for sure. But I do have some tips on getting thoughts organized and in presentation form.

I've always been an inveterate note taker because things would come to me and I would forget to write them down later because I was too busy at the moment. Now, it's because I'm freakin' old and the ol' synapses don't sizzle like they used to. So, here goes.

1. Get an iPad and carry it around with you everywhere you go. The notepad app is great, because you can type or dictate by voice. If you have a smart phone, that's good too, but I like the iPad because I'm never interrupted with a phone call. (And besides, phones are a little small to squint at your notes on.)
2. Take 15 minutes minimum each day to transcribe notes, premises and jokes. For me, I take an hour and I combine my reading with it.
3. Be an avid file keeper. I had the extreme honor of visiting George Carlin several times in his NYC home and seeing his file system, and how organized he was. As an ex-military guy, that came with the territory.

My issues recently have been trying to get "clean" gigs, esp. corporate. There seems to be a lot of work out there for blue comedians. At any rate, I'm organized when they DO call!

Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work, young lady.

Anonymous said...

So true! MY first draft is almost always really bad, but with some merrit. It is reading it, saying it, and writing it over and over again that makes it what I think is good! When writing a speech or a set for comedy it is the process of practicing it over and over again where I find the changes that need to be made. Sometimes I cannot get through reciting whole thing for 20 or more times because every time I start it, I find an improvenemt to make. I make the improvment, then start at the beginning again. And I do this until it feels right. Until it flows right. And in this process, it becomes a part of me, my story.(no matter what the story is, to me, it is the time spent with it, loving it and caring for it that makes it MY story) I helped some teen boys once who were housed in a reform type facility, write and deliver speeches for Toastmasters. The ones who got what I am saying here, about how working hard on your project and living it for a few hours at least, is what makes it a part of you, Those kids did extremely well on their speeches. I felt like I had birthed these kids when I saw that my words, my system, helped them so much. Granted, I have never been paid for this, and I do it when I want to, not for a living. I am sure this sometime tedious process would change if I HAD to do this to make a living. All I am saying though, is committing to making it the best you can, for me, means working hard on the content, spending time with it, and in doing so, not only do I come out with a much better product, but then, I can deliver it in my most authentic voice, because in the process it has become a part of me You cannot work that hard on something and not come to care a great deal about it. JMB

Karen Robertson said...

Judy, This was a perfect topic. Wed. I had a big speech to give to a corporation. It had hung over my head ever since I booked it. I prayed about it every day, jotted notes here and there, and left one full day open to work on just that. I always feel like God hangs me out there until the 11th hour so what when He does give me the direction and the words, I feel great about giving Him the credit. Sure enough on the last day, I sat down and it seemed to just flow together effortlessly. The fact is, over 40 years, I've given so many speeches of so many different types, all the stories are in the hopper, they just need to be the right ones for the right people, on the right occasion. I still depend on God for my inspiration and the doors He opens for me to present speeches and standup.

Christiana Nicole said...

Ah! I LOVE this! Absolutely love it. They are words I most certainly needed to read at such a point in my life, especially when it comes to my writing. Thanks for such a great read to start my day! :-)

-Christiana Nicole

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Mr.Ed The person not the horse said...

I bought the book The Message of You. Success! But I can't find a speaker buddy and don't know what to do? Mess! I don't need a speaker buddy. Why you say? Because I have Stacy my speaker fiense! Speaker+ Success+ success + success and love! Thank you Judy for the message of you.
Ed

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