Writer Ellen Schreiber, author of Full Moon Kisses, started out as a comedian. She graduated from the Second City Training Center (the famous Chicago comedy club where Tina Fey and Amy Poehler both got their start) and had a two-women show and her own stand-up act before she ever started writing novels.
Naturally, Ellen’s experiences as an comedian influenced how and what she writes—and she’s been nice enough to talk with Figment about it. Check out her top 10 list below—she offers some great advice on how you can improve your own writing habits.
1. Think Funny. There’s time to be too dramatic, but in comedy you are always looking on the funny side of life. That translates to my writing as well. Many scenes and dialogue can be upbeat and humorous. It makes the story and characters have some laughs and lighter moments. I also like to read upbeat novels, so for me to write them seems to come more naturally.
2. Carry a notebook. Like a good joke, a good idea can come at any time. And who wants to forget it? I always carry a small notebook and pen with me so I can jot down anything that comes to mind. And now that means a title to a book, a character name, description, or even plot points. It is easy to refer back to it when I’m ready to write and I’ve used those ideas in many of my books.
3. Forget the hecklers. Standing on stage and having someone yell out from the audience is about as hard as it gets. But it toughens you and can make you stronger. The same is true for writing. Not everyone might like your work—but for every heckler there is a crowd of people who do like what you write or have to say.
4. Improvise. There is nothing more important than being in the moment onstage. Being quick witted can help out in the toughest of situations. It has helped immensely when I write—to be able to think on the spot. I just write the dialogue spontaneously and let it flow. Knowing your characters really helps with a specific point of view.
5. Know your audience. It helps when you do stand-up to perform for an audience that understands your material. The same is for writing. If you are writing for young adults, it is best to have characters that have a voice that speaks to teens—that is authentic. I still remember high school so well and have many of the same feelings and tastes that I did then, so my characters just write themselves that way.
6. Try it out—let someone read your material. When I performed, I always tested out my material before I stepped onstage—and then continued with a wider audience such as on an open mic night or as one of the first acts in an actual show. I do the same with my writing. In the beginning, before I was published, I showed my novels to a small group—my inner circle—for feedback before I sent it to a publisher. It helps to have a “third eye” as they say to see if what I’m writing is coming through to the reader.
7. Just do it. If I’d never gotten up on stage, I wouldn’t know if I could actually perform stand-up. This was hard to do—but I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. Just once. Well, I wound up doing it many times after that. I do the same with writing. I try not to judge my ideas, but rather write them out and not self-correct as I go. It’s so easy to make excuses not to do something you want to do, but you won’t succeed unless you try it.
8. Try something new. Performing a new joke or a new idea might be frightening at first. It’s safer to do what you know works. But going in a new direction or putting in something that I haven’t tried out before lends itself to new rewards.
9. Rejection. Plan on it. I always did. Don’t let it get you down. All you need is one person to give you the green light. Then away you go!
10. Trust your gut. It’s the passion that drives the creativity behind anything I do—stand-up, acting, or writing. Many times I have an idea and I just follow it. A character, dialogue, or plot. It comes from deep within me and it’s the driving force behind all the stories I write. And that way it truly comes from me. Like I’ve heard someone say, ‘Follow Your Bliss.’ It can take you to places that you only thought were possible in your imagination.