Category Archives: Comedy Writing Tips

Conquering Writer’s Block (Without Your Head Falling Off)

One of the questions posed on my Goodreads author page, was ‘how do you conquer writer’s block?’ I said I didn’t believe in it. I said, ‘just push through. Keep writing. Write anything, even if it’s drivel.’

I think the best thing you can do is allow yourself to write nonsense and all of a sudden, breakthrough occurs.  Simply put: speed write.

I must just point out that speed writing isn’t anything at all to do with drugs. No, that’s called ‘I’m going to prison now writing.’ Speed writing is where you simply blast out all your thoughts in one long, stream of conscious flurry not stopping to worry at all that you might be writing garbage. And yes, you’ve guessed it; this blog post is a speed writing exercise. Thank you for noticing.  And look out, it may be somewhat unpredictable. One minute, I can be telling you something and then (oh look, a new pencil that needs sharpening) I can go off at a tangent because, wow, (my nails need biting some more, hold on a sec), my brain is off the charts odd.

But I believe this is an incredibly effective way to break what you perceive to be your writer’s block and using your blog to do so is the perfect place. This is where I put all my lesser edited, stream of conscious writing, so it’s perfect. But I do think writer’s block is your perfection obsessed self simply stalling you. Stop it and write!

Having said that, I have become a bit of a new-age hippy lately and taken up meditating. But not before I spent an age trying to teach myself how by searching for YouTube videos for guidance and practice. I’ve tried listening to and watching so many bizarre things on there, but keep finding myself side-tracked by my own, zany thought processes that don’t ever seem to switch off when I’m watching or listening to someone else.

‘Now,’ says meditation guru number one. ‘Imagine your whole body is loose and limp.’

I sink down into my pillow, not being able to help imagining I’ve fallen off the top of a tall building and everything is broken. Hmmm, this might not be good…

‘Imagine your hands are loose at the end of your arms.’ What? Like coming off, loose?

‘And your head is loose on the end of your neck.’

Holy hell, now I’m decapitated. Next!

Then there was the ‘ASMR Ear To Ear Whispering’ video, where I plugged in my earphones and listened to a young woman ‘awakening my creative self within’ by leaning in to whisper ‘you are wonderful. You are creative,’ into each of my ears at a time.

‘Ah, what a lovely, hypnotic voice,’ I thought. ‘This could work.’ Only, WAIT! Is that a penis under the chin of the sun behind her?

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Next!

The soft, male voice on my little free meditation app says, ‘imagine yourself on a beautiful, tropical beach.’

Ah, this is better. Yes please.

‘Now, you see a small rowing boat on the horizon and it’s heading towards you.’

I really hope it’s Gerard Butler with a case of champagne, wearing a thong. Do they make thongs for champagne cases?

‘When the boat reaches you, you climb aboard and sail away.’

Oh, Gerard Butler is wearing the thong. Okay, now I’m really not relaxed.

‘And then you come to a small, uninhabited island and disembark. Then the boat leaves.’

What the…? Gerard has left me marooned on a deserted island! How is this helping again? *panic panic*

So you see, I can’t do it… the whole ‘switch off your mind and relax’ thing. Even downloading the famous Paul McKenna’s app for my mobile phone didn’t work:

‘Do not listen to this tape whilst driving or operating machinery.’ (Puts down the chainsaw) ‘Wait for a time when you won’t be disturbed. Get into a comfortable position and switch off your phone.’

Okay done. Why has he stopped talking…?

So now I simply sit in silence for ten minutes twice a day and empty my thoughts to only focus on my personal mantra. Which I cannot tell you, as it is very personal; but I can reveal that I changed it from ‘I am’ to stop my mind wandering further as I attempted to finish the sentence with a comedy retort.

‘I am… probably asleep.’

‘I am… missing Coronation Street.’

How have you conquered writer’s block?

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Eulogy From A Passing Friend – RIP Charlie Adams

Just this morning I received the devastating news that a good pal and comedy writing Image legend, Charlie Adams, passed away. When I say ‘good pal’, Charlie and I only met once in June of this year, but had the modern equivalent of a friendship – starting with a Tweet, moving on to a LinkedIn hello and then an eighteen month series of emails where he imparted a wealth of comedy writing genius and advice.

From the moment I learned of his passing, I spent a good while reading through all of our email chats again, wanting to ‘hear’ his voice again and have a good cry into the bargain, but finding nothing but laugh after laugh after laugh. Because that was what Charlie always brought to my day and I loved him for it. I only wish I’d held tighter on that first hug that turned out to be our last.

Charlie wrote for all the greats – Bob Hope, Bob Monkhouse, Les Dawson, Paul O’Grady to name but a few. As a comedy writer myself, I once complained to him about comedians taking my work and then refusing to give me credit or a recommendation. He told me simply that as a comedy writer you can become a person known by everybody in the comedy business and nobody in the comedy watching world, shortly before telling me to stop complaining and get back to gag writing. ‘Oh,’ he added. ‘And stop giving your stuff away for nothing. Bob Monkhouse once nearly broke my arm when he heard me giving a free gag to a fellow comedian.’

Many of you reading this won’t have heard of Charlie. Let me tell you all he was a genius, a lovely, giving man and in my most humble opinion – as well as the opinion of those really in the know – he was the king of the one liner.

He was an avid reader of my blog, offering a guest post himself – TOP TIPS FOR COMEDY WRITING – as well as the odd comment to keep me in check. The blog posts I toiled and sweated over to make funny, he would trump with a single comment at the bottom – see here: https://hell4heather.com/2013/04/18/treadmill-fails/

And when I told him, just one week ago, that I’d finally secured an agent for my novel, he told me, ‘we all knew you’d do it.’ It was said in the very last email I received from him, alongside his assurance that he wasn’t ill after I’d asked after his health. So at least one of these things was a lie 😉

An excerpt from one of his recent COMCOMCOM blogs:

‘My Dad always had a good attitude to health matters.  If I’d been put to bed to recover from an ailment the minute he got in from work he’d come to my room.  Still in his overalls and carrying his tool bag – he was some sort of engineer.  He’d take a stub of pencil, stick it under my tongue, hold my wrist and look off into the distance, counting.  Then he’d remove the pencil, study it and say ‘Hmmm, 2B, that’s normal.’

Other times he’d lay a cool hand on my forehead and say ‘Auch, you’re dying fine.’

I laughed myself better.’

I wish you could have done that this time, C.

I still can’t believe I am writing this – RIP Charlie Adams. I will never forget you XXX

READ COMEDY PRODUCER & BUSINESS PARTNER ALAN NIXON’S TRIBUTE TO CHARLIE HERE

Top Tips For Comedy Writing: Take Your Partners!

As my little blog edges up to almost FIVE THOUSAND VIEWS (I know, can you believe it?) I’ve taken a tiny break from Mrs David Dando rewrites and studying to bring you another post in the spirit of Blod, Sweet & Tears – the story of my comedy writing & online networking journey. Although, I confess I only had to look up from the excellent On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft from Stephen King for a second, because this weeks guest contributor did all the work. And yes, I do urge the novelists among you to read Stephen King’s book. It is the greatest manual for writing I have read to date.

Q: What happens when you decide you can write comedy, but can’t find anyone who also decides you can write comedy and offers to buy some of your stuff? I don’t know. But Keith R Lindsay does.. and he’s one of the lovely folk I have pestered for advice over the past two years. Yet he still talks to me 🙂

Keith R Lindsay started out in the world of television situation comedy, team writing on the highly successful ‘Birds of a Feather’ series and signing an exclusive contract with producers Alomo Productions to contribute material to their portfolio of shows and create original concepts.

He has written for sketch shows including ‘Hale & Pace’ and stand-up material for Rik Mayall and has storylined for ‘Crossroads’.

He collaborated with the late, great John Sullivan (‘Fools and Horses’) on the ggghomespin-off series ‘Green Green Grass’, featuring the characters Boycie and Marlene, and co-wrote episodes with John for the third series including the 2007 Christmas Special.

Here is Keith’s story:

“So you want me to tell you how I got started?

First I found a writing partner, sort of by accident, sort of planned – we’d performed some comedy stuff together so writing the funny seemed like a natural progression for us.

A partner has his or her uses: you can bounce ideas off them; you have an instant, though usually wrong, second opinion; they help you get over the fear of the blank page; and when it comes to bitching about rejection two mouths are better than one.

As for how you work together, that’s something you’ll have to work out for yourselves, Galton and Simpson put it like this: one types and one walks around a lot.

The thing about partners is, they’re like wives, don’t expect them to necessarily be there forever – one of you is bound to have the bigger ego and well…I refer you to what I said before about ‘usually wrong’.

The next step – we wrote something: a radio comedy which we entered in a BBC contest, it didn’t make the cut but it was well remembered by a producer when we tried to sneak it back in later – his encouragement helped enormously: cheers Pete Atkin.

Step three we wrote something else, and equally as importantly we finished it; rule number one you don’t get far by trying to pitch your fabulous ideas to people – writing is about, well, writing.

This time we wrote a film script, badly constructed, it required a Spielbergian budget to make, but, and this is the important bit, it showed we knew funny. It always amazes me how many budding comedy writers don’t bring the funny in their scripts.

We knew we were funny, yes we knew we were arrogant too, but we knew because we’d written comedy material and tried it out on real audiences to see it they laughed, the true test of comedy, and they did.

Having finished the script (see what I did there, repeated the word finished because it’s so important, and look I used finished again…and again…ok point made) we were specific in our targets.

Rule number one, again, it is really, really, important to try to get your script into the right hands.

Ok so we had a reply form Yorkshire TV, as was, which amounted to a feck off, so perhaps our targeting was a little awry there but…we were invited to a writers workshop at LWT, as was again, by the lovely Robin Carr who at the end of the day asked if we had an agent – a big ‘no’; then further asked if we’d like one – ‘hell yes!’.

The man crammed us into his Toyota jeep thing and drove us to meet his agent there and then. Suddenly we were represented writers, and the first thing our new agent told us was that we should always remember that comedy writers are like gold dust.

The same script opened the door for us at Central TV, yes as was, and we received a letter from Marks and Gran asking ‘do they let you have sharp things in there?’ The letter also asked us to call them; we did and were invited for lunch.

Quick aside here, it’s a rule that I have yet to have had broken – if the person inviting you to a meeting puts out for food you have the gig, if they only offer you a beverage, the job’s not coming your way.

So back to Marks and Gran, over lunch they explained our film script was going nowhere, true, but that we were funny and situation comedy was where it was all happening. Long story short we were invited to work on Birds of A Feather.

Was all this luck and timing? Some of it yes, but we worked hard too, we actually did the writing, did the research and most importantly found out first if we were funny.  When it comes down to it comedy isn’t like religion, you can’t just take it on faith that you’re funny.

And if you are funny, you have to bring your best funny to every script you write; and I mean ‘your’ funny, you should only write your own version of funny and look to find enough likeminded souls to laugh with you.

It’s more than possible you’re the only one who finds what you write funny, but please don’t let that put you off writing since I’d much rather a sociopath like you at home in front of your laptop typing away and laughing demonically than have you out of the streets.

Is that enough?”

Keith regularly runs sitcom writing workshops in London and will travel for groups on ten or more countrywide. Well worth a look if you are serious about your art – Find out more HERE

NEWS: I was very pleased to be asked to take part in a radio interview for Universidad Europea de Madrid which I hope to be able to share with you via a podcast link in the coming weeks. Look out for that one! Authoress in training 🙂

 

Top Tips For Comedy Writing: Don’t Make Waffles!

Yesterday was my birthday and I was 42… no really! And I spent it in the company of many other aspiring writers listening to an enlightening talk at The Scottish Writers’ Centre on the submission process from Conville & Walsh agent Jo Unwin. I should point out I had not gone there to pitch – given that my novel is far from ready and on the first rewrite, which I learned should now be the first of at least three(!) – but stood up to do so anyhoo. What a scary experience! I won’t say I was nervous, but I should probably have introduced it in a Donkey from Shrek style-ee with, ‘I’m making waffles!’ You know that mantra we all should have – do one thing that scares you every day? That was mine 🙂 I babbled on about the main points of my novel – ‘porn’ ‘sex’ ‘blowing up a baked fish’ – that kind of thing. Thank God I didn’t go on to mention electrocution by pelvic toner… but I may have managed to shock regardless. In short (oh dear, there I go again) it was good fun, very interesting, a great experience and I am really grateful to have someone so busy give their time to offer advice to us newbies. I got to blow out my birthday candles (OK it was a tea light on top of the icing on my cake) with my understanding and wonderful kids when I arrived home at 9.30pm. Lovely!

And so, following on from my MUST READ Blod, Sweet & Tears post, where I talked about how to keep motivated in the face of unpublished writer destitution and how I have been lucky enough to have gathered messages of advice and Imageencouragement from many kind professionals that have influenced and inspired me in the world of comedy – this week’s post is from British comedy writer and stand up comedian, Tony Cowards – voted by Chortle as the 46th Most Influential Comedian on Twitter.

As a stand up comedian and comedy writer people often ask me to divulge the secrets of comedy writing and it seems an obvious truism but the only way to be a writer is to write.

It’s a scientifically proven fact* that 94.7% of all people who claim to be writers actually spend their time sat drinking coffee in internet cafes or at home bashing away on their laptops (not a euphemism) telling people on Facebook, twitter or internet forums that they are writers without actually, ever writing anything of more value than a status update.

So, in no particular order please welcome to the stage Tony Cowards 7 Golden Rules of Comedy Writing;

1) Be Famous

If you are famous people will pay you to write any old rubbish. Katie Price has sold more books than almost anyone else on the planet, believe it or not this isn’t down to her amazing literary skills but because she’s almost permanently been on the cover of “Heat” magazine and the like for the last 10 years.

If you are a famous comedian then you’ll have little trouble getting your sitcom commissioned, especially if you are young, attractive and can secure that all important advertising revenue. If you aren’t famous then expect to slog away for years trying to get that, potentially, award winning show made. Unfortunately without the fame you’ll have to make it using talent and an unshakeable ability to hang in there, beating your head against the door until it opens enough for you to get your foot in it.

2) Write everyday

Writing is a skill, it needs to be worked on and practiced. Write something everyday, whether it’s jokes, one-liners, a blog, a novel or even just random thoughts, write for an hour or two everyday, keep what you’ve written and occasionally go back over it to see what can be utilised for other projects or can be edited to make it better. It supposedly takes 10,000 hours practice to become a “genius” at something, so put in those hours now and who knows, in 10 years time you might be a genius. If you don’t put in the time though you certainly won’t.

As someone who makes a (meagre) living from comedy writing I would say that the most important things to remember are the 3 P’s, “Prevarication, Postponement and Procrastination”, if you can avoid those then you have a chance of making a living as a comedy writer.

3) Turn off the radio, the TV and, especially, the Internet

Try to make sure you have a quiet area where you can write, away from all the distractions that are so present in modern life. In order to write properly you need to be concentrating fully, you can’t do this with Steve Wright chuntering away in the background or if, every 30 seconds, one of your Facebook friends is posting a video of a sneezing panda.

4) Write as much as you can and never throw anything away

The secret of writing good jokes is writing lots of jokes, most of which will be awful. Even the best gag writers in the business will have a fairly poor hit rate of good/bad gags but the more you write the more gold you’ll hit upon. Also, never throw away the rubbish, put it in a folder somewhere and look over it from time to time, especially when you are struggling for inspiration. That terrible joke you wrote about the French Prime Minister might suddenly become topical or adaptable to become a brilliant joke about the Eiffel Tower.

5) Never stare at a blank screen or piece of paper

Nothing will cause writer’s block more than the sight of a vast empty white space with no source of inspiration. Always have some ideas that you’ve previously jotted down on a notepad or on a handy Word document. If you are really stuck pick a news story and write as many jokes as you can about it or select a random article on Wikipedia and do the same.

6) Always carry a notebook or phone with you

A funny thought can strike at the most inopportune of moments and you need a method to record them as quickly as possible. Never trust your brain to remember it, every comedian and comedy writer has lost masses of brilliant jokes because they didn’t write them down straight away.

Also one of the secrets of comedy output is to maximise your raw material input, so read as much as you can about any subject there is comedy in the most unlikely of sources. Jokes are often found at the connection of two unrelated subjects, so the more you know about a vast variety of subjects the more likely you are to see the connections.

7) Get your writing out there

Whether it be tweeting, filming sketches, blogging, self-publishing or whatever, get your writing out there so people can find it. Send your jokes to comedians, greetings card companies, Christmas cracker manufacturers. Listen to the end of radio comedy programmes, pick out the names of the important people and google them to find out their email addresses so you can send them samples of your sitcom pilot. Listen out for open submission shows like “Newsjack” and send material in every week.

Try not to turn into a comedy stalker but also don’t give up easily and try not to take rejection personally. Once you get a name as a writer then it all becomes, slightly, easier, but at the start be prepared to write for anyone and anything, get as many credits as you can.
*not actually a scientifically proven fact.

You can find out more about the comedy genius that is Tony Cowards here: http://www.tonycowards.co.uk/

Top Tips For Comedy Writing – NEVER Give Up

Last year I wrote a sitcom pilot and sent it out to several producers. After seeing it returned with some encouraging comments but mostly a ‘better luck next time,’ I decided to do a little more reading on the subject, take some professional advice and then put it away for a time and write something else.

A fortnight ago, I completed the first draft of my comedy novel for women, MRS DAVID DANDO –  a project that was started immediately after a dear friend of mine who I met through Twitter, Hywel Jones, passed away. At the beginning of 2012, Hywel told me, ‘this will be your year Heather!’ It wasn’t, because sadly, I lost one of the most amazing people I have ever met. But one of many things he taught me was the truth in the saying, ‘live to regret the things you did do, not the things you didn’t.’  If you ever doubt the power or usefulness of Twitter, you can read about my inspirational friend Hywel and our bizarre/funny/extraordinary conversations HERE. Suffice to say, I truly fell in love on Twitter and miss Hywel everyday. And he is, without a doubt, the reason I set out to write my novel.

I have met, chatted with and listened to some amazing people through the social media channels from many varied and fascinating backgrounds and have found it a fantastic training ground.  The onset of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc has allowed me, a humble, unknown writer to get a grasp of what people I never thought would give me the time of day have to say about the comedy writing industry – and, indeed, the publishing industry in general. It has also resulted in a deluge of well-meaning folk sending me links on how to handle rejection since I announced my plans to start sending out my novel to literary agents in the New Year. If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have a saying of my own when it comes to rejection, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try eating the whole bun.’  If you missed the original post about my motivation for writing, please see HERE.

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And so this week, I have an email I am permitted to share that was sent to me from TV writer and Executive Producer at Wild Rover Productions Kieran Docherty. Kieran has written extensively for the BBC, Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company among others:

“I always thought of myself as a writer, but I think my career only really started once I started thinking of myself as a business. I knew I had to sell my scripts, but I also started to view myself as a product that needed to be sold too. Once that little switch went off in the back of my head I started to view the industry differently. I started to research agents, production companies and even broadcasters. I hated my job (I worked in an outbound call centre by day and as a barman by night) so I started to dig my escape tunnel by reading industry magazines like Broadcast and Film Ireland. I wanted to sound like a knowledgable professional to offset the fact that I looked like a scruffy student! 

I found out the names of all the local producers in town and managed to befriend a comedy producer who just so happened to drink in the bar I worked in. He agreed to read some of my stuff. He liked it and asked me to send him some more. I did that for about a year and a bit. I didn’t get payed, but that was OK because I hadn’t jacked in the day job yet, and eventually I got a shot at writing on a real radio show.

I still hated my job but I knew I couldn’t leave just yet, so I developed a new plan – to try and find a job somewhere in the industry. I figured it would let me meet the important people in a professional capacity as opposed to a drunken capacity. I took days off work to take on runner jobs at no money. I meet some nice people, stayed in touch with them, and kept myself on their radar. This lead to a development job at a local TV production company, which lead to a format development job, which lead to where I am now. It’s quite an interesting place to be – I’m a producer now – so I’m seeing the industry from both sides. I don’t know whether I prefer hearing the word ‘no’ or saying the word ‘no’! 

I have no idea if the approach I took was sensible or not – I was making everything up as I went along – but thankfully it worked out for me! The only thing that I know for sure is that, even if none of the above had ever happened, I’d still be writing and plugging away. If you want something bad enough, don’t settle until you get it.” 
Kieran 

There is a general theme to all the advice that I have received, that normally comes at around the last line: ‘Don’t settle until you get it!’  I’d hazard a guess that all successful writer’s have this in common.

Hope to catch you here reading next week!

FINAL THOUGHT: Huge congratulations to Midway-Media.com – owned by my brother Barry & his wife Tracey – on winning The East Midlands Best Wedding Videographer Award

Keep writing…

Top Tips For Comedy Writing – And Dear Mum, I’m Not ACTUALLY Selling My Couch

If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have been sharing how I use LinkedIn for networking and asking great people in the TV/Radio comedy writing/producing world how they got to do what they do. If you missed the original post, please see HERE.

I have had the happy privilege of receiving a wealth of advice over the past twelve months from author and television writer Ivor Baddiel. His current projects include writing for The X Factor & his latest book Never In A Million Years: A History of Hopeless Predictions is available HERE. You will find Ivor on Twitter as @Ivorbaddiel – or not as the case may be – as he is still an egg avatar (which does, in fairness, represent a good likeness ;-)) and only tweets occasionally. His advice for readers of this blog for this week’s snippet is:

“My advice – when writing for yourself, find your voice, don’t be derivative and be as funny as fuck. When writing for other people, give them what they want and hope to retain as much of your dignity as possible. If all else fails, think of the money!”

I have also had a kind email from British film and TV producer and director Ed Bye. Ed produced and directed Series I to IV, Series VII and Series VIII of Red Dwarf – just part of a busy career that includes Absolutely Fabulous, My FamilyThe Young OnesBottomKevin & Perry Go Large and French & Saunders. But Ed began his career in humble beginnings, as a floor assistant at the BBC. Here is my email that Ed has kindly allowed me to share here:

Hi Heather, 
Think back to your best idea, write it, put it away and do something else. 
Pull it out again and review it in the cold light of day, rewrite anything that seems even slightly iffy. 
Repeat the above at least two times. 
Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is the plot strong enough even if there were no jokes in it? 
  • Are the characters strong enough to carry on for many episodes?
  • Will the audience have some sympathy for your principal character even if they are an utter pig? 
  • Are there of 5 to 7 equally good plots which will work for the characters? 
  • Is it funny enough? 

If the answers to the above are “Yes”, then get some mates to read it out loud and record it on a handy cam then put it away. 
Go for a drink/earn some money/both. 
Pull it out and review it in the cold light of day, rewrite anything that seems even slightly iffy. It HAS to be funny. 
Repeat all the above until absolutely certain. 

Good luck, comedy is a tough old nut to crack but don’t give up, you will eventually be rewarded. 
Ed. 

I am extremely grateful to all the wonderful people that have been happy to give their time to offer content for this blog. If you have anything to add or suggestions for future posts, please feel free to email me: hell4heather@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Keep writing!

News about ME: After months of sleepless nights, I have now completed the first draft of my comedy novel for women Mrs David Dando – which is currently undergoing the real work – editing! I hope to begin my hunt for a literary agent in the New Year. Read an overview of Mrs David Dando HERE.

And if you do nothing else, please help me tell my worried mother I’m not so skint I’m actually selling my couch! 🙂

How To Be a Write Charlie – Top Tips For Comedy Writing

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Keen to progress in the business of comedy writing, I have given away countless lines hoping to advertise my work and get what I believe is called, ‘paid work.’  Thanks to a series of chats with my very first guest ‘poster’ Charlie Adams, I still tweet away jokes and random thoughts on Twitter throughout my day and post my blog, but I’m saving my best work these days.  And I don’t give writing away anymore.

Charlie Adams has spent twenty five happy years writing gags, sketches, introductions and put-downs for Image  the world’s greatest comedians, including Bob Hope, Bob Monkhouse, Les Dawson, Mike Yarwood & Jimmy Tarbuck. He has credits on hundreds of broadcast shows and live productions including comedy, drama, documentary and factual. Here, he shares advice on breaking into the comedy writing business:

First, a warning – There are people in this business who don’t know that comedy writers exist – and we comedy writers have a name for those people.  We call them comedians.

From the age of 12 I wanted to be a comedian.  I had a huge store of jokes I’d heard on radio, TV and when my parents took me to the theatre on holiday.  I read and remembered the hundreds of jokes printed in my comics and in the newspapers we got.  Then when I was about 15 I saw the Dick Van Dyke Show.  In it he was a comedy writer, he had a fabulous house and a very beautiful wife and so I decided to be a comedy writer.

In a magic shop I bought a joke book for professional magicians. In it the author said it wasn’t necessary to memorise the entire joke only the tag line. He said I’d either remember the set up when I wanted to tell the joke or the tag might fit a completely different set of circumstances.  Suddenly I’m talking in punchlines like a New York conjuror. But I was on my way.

Take a chance.

I’d had a few things on Week Ending and The News Huddlines, written for Mike Yarwood, Bob Hope, Brian Conley and Hale & Pace and I sent an idea for a radio show to Bob Monkhouse.  He called me and asked me to send him some examples of material I’d written.  I sent him everything.  Two days later a big envelope landed on the mat and the material was returned.  There was a smaller envelope inside and I took out the letter and read it.  Monkhouse, a hero, said that all the things he’d liked he’d put a red dot beside.  I scanned through the pages for red dots.  Not too shabby.  At the end of the letter he said he’d like me to do half a dozen topical one-liners for a show he had two days later and he enclosed a cheque for £250.  I worked for him on and off for years after.

One day I realised he hadn’t said if he like the radio idea or not.  I guess not.

Once I was on a show with BM and we were at Central TV in Nottingham.  In the queue for the canteen I made a comment that got a big laugh.  Bob said to me, ‘Sell me that gag.’  I said, ‘Have it.’  He got quite angry at this and said ‘Don’t you ever let me hear you say that to anyone.  That line is worth money,  I can use it every night of the week.  How much do you want?’  I said, ‘you can pay for my lunch.’  He looked at my tray; he said ‘Is that all you’re having?’ I said ‘Yes.’ He said ‘Done.’

When I was script editor on shows I read everything but I preferred material that was neatly presented with no spelling mistakes and proper punctuation.  Obviously, badly typed, error strewn material got read, too, and if it was funny got selected, corrected and considered.  But it’s not really the script editor’s job to save your career. You must learn to self-edit and always only submit your best work.

  • Read your lines out loud to see if they make sense.
  • Put your best, stone bonker certain lines first every time.  Put them last they might not read that far.
  • Write a lead in for your best gags.  An amusing set-up followed by another gag on the subject topped with your best gag – hard to resist.
  • As a comedy writer, whether you like it or not, you are in show-business.  Whomever you consider to be the best comedy writer in the game is your competition. You start at the top and you’re expected to be good.
  • Pay attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling and tone.  If you don’t understand those you’re in the wrong job.
  • Selling to comics.  Ask for the money upfront.  If they won’t pay they weren’t gonna pay anyway.  If they say, ‘what if I don’t like it?’ they were never gonna pay anyway.  If they say, ‘you have no background or reputation,’ they were never gonna pay anyway.

Thanks Charlie! 🙂

You can visit Charlie’s website here: http://www.charlieadams.co.uk
And follow him on Twitter @gagfather
Need comedy writing help? Contact: ca@charlieadams.co.uk

I’m currently working on a radio sitcom and a hilarious new novel for women, Mrs David Dando, which you can read about here: https://hell4heather.com/2012/08/02/agreektravesty/

Blod, Sweet & Teer’s

This week I am celebrating two years – yes TWO YEARS – of chasing my writing dream and swearing at onscreen typos. Hurray! *cracks Pomagne bottle open*

It has been two and a half years since I walked out of a relatively secure job because I felt creatively stifled, and wanted – neigh NEEDED to do something else.  It took a little while longer for me to say aloud, ‘you know what, I think I can write. So I’m going to try.’ Then, after all the other people on the bus had edged away from me for talking to myself, I wrote it down.. and it was gooood..

It is actually all Will Smith’s fault – or should I say, Chris Gardiner’s. Because one day I sat down to watch The Pursuit of Happyness. And if you haven’t seen it, this is a little of what I saw:

Sentimental as it may sound, this film – the true story of how Chris Gardner turned his life around in one year from homelessness to stockbroker – really struck a chord with me. He said, and I quote:

‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something.’

At the time, myself and my husband were just getting by financially and no more despite both of us working full time. My salary was effectively cut in half anyway by childcare costs and the kids had to be up and out at 7am in the morning to be taken to the out of school club and we all got home at 7pm at night. And we were sick of it.

So, in the midst of this and after watching Chris Gardner’s remarkable story, I sat down with my other half and told him that, even though we were broke already, I wanted to quit my job and try and get us out of this madness (and, OK possibly into some more) because I believed I had a talent to do something extraordinary. With terror in his eyes, ‘is she nuts?’  ‘dare I disagree?’  ‘Hang on, you mean she’ll be home to cook me a hot meal at last?’  – my husband agreed.

Last year, I joined the professional networking site LinkedIn and began researching all the writers I admired, all the comedy programmes I loved and set about finding and linking to the people involved. I didn’t know any of them and risked being thrown off the site for doing what you are essentially not supposed to do but then, I’m not known for doing things by the book. I have been known to do things WITH a book – apologies to all the little spider orphans, but I digress…

So, I contacted people in earnest, acknowledging the fact that I didn’t know them, had never worked with them and wasn’t an old next door neighbour looking to ask for my lawnmower back. I said, ‘I admire your work and want to know how you got to be where you are today.’ The surprising thing was, yes, a few people couldn’t be bothered in their busy world to give me the time of day, but for the most part – around 85% I would say – of the industry professionals I contacted have been more than happy to take time out to advise and encourage me.

Image

For those of you that don’t know, Jon Plowman is responsible for producing and commissioning programmes produced in-house at the BBC, of which the greatest successes include The Office and French & Saunders. One of the UK’s most experienced producers, he became head of comedy in October 2005, and now oversees the BBC’s in-house comedy production. In short, he’s (to quote Bridget Jones) ‘very busy and important.’ But he was not too busy to talk to me when I asked, ‘how did you get to do what you do and how did you keep the wolf from the door as you tried to do it?’ This was his email response, which he has kindly given me permission to share:

Heather

Well it was a while ago but I got my first break by writing and directing a play for no money and then writing to the place I wanted to work and asking them to come to see the play which luckily had had nice reviews.
In relation to the wolf the answer is that you need long term and short term goals . If long term is work in showbiz/tv/media you also need short term which is eat.
If you really want to do something enough then you WILL do it and if you have to do other things to eat try to do at least one thing a day (like reading something or writing something) that’s yours and towards the longer goal.

Good Luck

Jon Plowman

So, I am going to share my findings in a short series of guest posts giving  hints and tips from writing industry professionals to keep us motivated as we soldier on, pencils at the ready, wolf at the door, singing ‘typo, typo, it’s off to work we go!’

My first guest post will be from Charlie Adams, a comedy writer who wrote gags for the likes of Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and someone who has gone that extra mile to offer me loads of joke writing industry insight. Tune in next week!