One of my favorite creative projects lately is a series of short comedy pieces, as The Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist, for a local radio station’s morning show. I’ve been tasked with writing, recording, producing, and delivering segments on various topics ranging from the weather to current political events to weird rants of my own choosing.
They have asked that the pieces come in at 1 minute 15 seconds in length. That’s not much time, should be easy, right?
HA. I wish.
Every week I manage to turn this 75 seconds into an existential crisis. Somehow, every time, I emerge from the fog of writer’s block and deliver work that I’m proud of. I’ve found a very distinct pattern emerging. Whenever there’s a pattern, there’s a mechanism. I’ve found that when a mechanism exists and I fail to use it very efficiently, I’ve got a major lesson to learn. Though it’s a little embarrassing how complicated I manage to make this, I know I’m not that unique of a snowflake; there must be a few other people who are having a similar experience. Maybe this can help. At the very least, know that you aren’t alone in your creative struggles. With that, I give you, the seven days for 75 seconds:
Day 1: come up with an idea / premise for the bit
Day 2: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny.
Day 3: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny. Stress out a little bit.
Day 4: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny. Stress out even more.
Day 5: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny. Write 2 sentences in my notes.
Day 6: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny. Try not to think about how much time I’ve wasted and the impending doom of the deadline.
Day 7, 9:00 am: Think a lot about the premise and how to make it funny. Write another sentence.
Day 7, 6:00 pm: promise myself that after I eat some dinner, I’ll seriously get to work on this.
Day 7, 7:00 pm: look over my notes and dive into a pit of self loathing at how not funny they are.
Day 7, 8:00 pm: realize that I actually do not want to stay up all night writing and recording.
Day 7, 9:00 pm: “oh shit, I really, truly, wanted to be done recording by now and almost done with editing but I haven’t even got the script written yet, oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck…. Hey, I wonder if there’s any beer in the fridge?”
Day 7, 9:11 pm: “no beer. Let’s see, do I need to check Facebook again? It’s been 6 minutes since I left it. I bet it’s lonely…”
Day 7, 9:13 pm: briefly consider the sense of impending doom from my fast approaching deadline.
Day 7, 9:16 pm: “Ok. I’m sure glad I liked that video of two cats dressed like Hillary and Trump. Facebookland is surely better off now because I’ve bestowed my approval on that video.”
Day 7, 9:17 pm: “but seriously, it’s time to write. As it is, you aren’t going to be before 2 am, and the later you put this off, the more you run the risk of writing really shitty stuff.”
Day 7, 9:19 pm: Start writing stuff even though it’s not that funny. For every 10 sentences there’s one that might have potential.
Day 7, 9:25 pm: Against these 10 to 1 odds, I persevere and write another 10 sentences. Oh hey. Look. Another funny idea.
Day 7, 9:32 pm: Whoah. 30 sentences in and there are 5 funny ideas sitting here.
Day 7, 9:40 pm: I feel like I’ve written “War And Peace”, but there appear to be 8 funny ideas of ore embedded in this page of tailings.
Day 7, 9:46 pm: Like two sworn enemies selecting their dueling weapons, I take a long hard look at the microphone.
Day 7, 9:49 pm: We’ve walked 10 paces. It’s time to turn on the microphone and do this.
Day 7, 9:50 pm: Dude. It doesn’t need to be perfect at first. JUST SAY SOME WORDS.
Day 7, 9:51 pm: ….but let’s go to the bathroom first.
Day 7, 9:53 pm: Turn on mic. Look at words on screen. Say them.
Day 7, 9:55 pm: That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Day 7, 9:56 pm: Lighbulb turns on. Say the words again into the microphone.
Day 7, 9:58 pm: OMG. As I was saying the words I have written, I said some other words that were not on the screen, and they were REALLY GOOD.
Day 7, 9:59 pm: Write the new words down. Cut. Paste. Cut. Cut. Paste.
Day 7, 10:01 pm: Turn on mic. Say the words again. I feel like I’m driving through fog, but I’m definitely driving forward.
Day 7, 10:05 pm Turn on mic again. Say more words. New words appear out of nowhere. Write them down. Cut. Cut. Paste.
Day 7, 10:08 pm: Turn on mic. Say the words. The fog is clearing fast! OMG. The final destination appears on the horizon. I see what the finished product is going to look like.
Day 7, 10:11 pm: Mic on. Say the words. It’s definitely flowing. Its GOOD. It’s too long.
Day 7, 10:12 pm: Review my notes. Decide which of my children I’m going to leave on the Titanic as I put my favorites on the life boat. Cut. Paste. Cut. Paste. Goodbye, my loves….. I’m not even sure who your real mother was anyway…
Day 7, 10:16 pm: Turn on mic. Say the remaining words. This is good. Really good. Still too long.
Day 7, 10:19 pm: I never though I’d have to throw you out of the life boat, but you’ve gotta go. Goodbye, witty and rather funny sentence. I’m going to miss you. We’ll think about you when this finally airs.
Day 7, 10:20 pm: Turn on mic. Say the words. Wow, getting rid of that sentence was hard, but now we are making serious progress. We never really needed him anyway. The other sentences get the job done just fine.
Day 7, 10:23 pm: Still 20 seconds overtime. Force each of the remaining sentences to go on a diet. Cut all fat.
Day 7, 10: 29 pm: Amazed at how much superfluous language I spit out. So THAT’s what an efficient sentence looks like.
Day 7, 10:32 pm: Turn on mic. Record the words. 10 seconds overboard. Do more soul searching, eliminate one last sentence. God, that was hard. I loved that sentence. *sniff*.
Day 7, 10:36pm: Turn on mic. Record the words… VOILA! IT FITS. My delivery wasn’t awesome, and a dog was barking in the background.
Day 7, 10:38 pm: Take two: Pretty good! Somehow I got tongue tied over the word “supposedly”. Twice.
Day 7, 10:40 pm: Take Three was pretty decent. Take four had potential.
Day 7, 10:50 pm: Take Five was *money*. That’s it! That’s my keeper.
Day 7, 10:58 pm: Edit out pauses and weird little sounds. Add music and sound effects (this part is lots of fun)
Day 7, 11:17 pm: Listen to finished product. Bask in self imposed glory. Realize that this piece moves fast and most people will miss 69% of the jokes. Reassure myself that I’d rather write comedy that is nuanced and layered that gets better with every listen, than tell simple minded jokes you only want to hear once.
Day 7, 11:23 pm: Send the finished piece to the radio station and a very small circle of friends that I share my process with.
Day 7, 11:29 pm: realize that I really only spent 2 hours and 4 minutes to produce my latest masterpiece, but somehow I turned it into an agonizing WEEK LONG process.
Day 7, 11:35 pm: realize that every time I successfully create work of this kind, I end up following the exact same process. Promise myself that next week, I won’t spend 6 days stressing about it. With my renewed confidence in my creative ability, I promise myself that next week, I’ll simply block out a few hours on a Tues morning and just write words and say them into the mic. Over, and over, and over. That is my process. It works. Every. Single. Time.
As I walk away from my desk, I realize how many other parts of my life are this way. When I look back at other successes, I see patterns. There are steps that I always end up doing, but only after I’ve given up the fight in my head about what things “ought” to look like, and just LET THEM BE. When I give up the fight and just give in to the process, something kind of crazy happens….
The result bears a striking resemblance to what I originally had hoped for – except that it’s just a little bit better. I hear the Universe / God / Circumstance / Whatever telling me:
The process has made itself very clear to you.
It works. Every. Damn. Time.
We live in a mechanical universe, and this is one of it’s gears.
You are not just “good enough” for the job –
You are better than you know.
Let go of “trying”.
For those who are curious, here is a collection of these radio bits: