Writing humor isn’t for cowards. Like comedians onstage at the Improv, humor writers don’t really know if their audience will laugh in all the right places, chuckle at just the right time, smile and nod in agreement, or scratch their heads in confusion.
Award winning author Erin Taylor Young tickles funny bones with ease as she shares her faith one giggle at a time. Her debut book, Surviving Henry, was chosen as the Nonfiction Book of the Month by the The Book Club Network’s Readers’ Choice Awards and is a finalist in the Published Memoir category in the 2015 Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Awards.
Please join me in welcoming Erin as she shares her insight on writing humor.
Xochi: Congratulations on the release of Surviving Henry, Erin. Please tell us how you came to write about your hilarious experiences with your adorable Boxer.
Erin: Early in Henry’s ludicrous string of near-death fiascoes, I remember thinking: Oh. My. Gosh. People will never believe the stuff this dog does. I oughta be writing it down…
Like that would prove it really happened or something?
So I guess in part I just wanted to have a record of it. But I don’t think that alone would’ve been sufficient to make me torture myself at the keyboard day after day, trying to turn words into coherent sentences. I think it really boiled down to a nudge from God. He gave me the most ridiculous and difficult dog in maybe the whole wide world, and there came a point where I couldn’t not write about it.
And when readers tell me their trials and escapades, and how much the book helped them to know they’re not alone with their crazy—and sometimes very hard—pet struggles, well, then I’m really glad I wrote it all down.
Xochi: Have you always considered yourself a humor writer?
Erin: I never saw myself turning into a writer, let alone a humor writer. I wanted to be a composer, but God had other ideas. Which is good, because it turns out that I’m not a very talented musician.
What I do have is a life filled with “Oh, sure, it’s funny now” stories—the kind you wish happened to other people instead of you. Writing about them feels like a natural consequence, like I’m just playing the hand I’ve been dealt.
Xochi: How can writers determine if they have the knack for writing humor?
Erin: If people laugh at what you write, that’s a pretty good tip-off. And I mean laugh in a funny ha-ha way, not in a “bless your heart that’s terrible” way.
Xochi: What are the pros and cons of identifying yourself as a humor writer?
Erin: You know, in the case of humor branding, I think it’s better to let that label happen naturally.
I can say anything I want about my writing, but it won’t mean much if readers, editors, and other industry professionals don’t agree.
I wrote a guest post for The Steve Laube Agency Blog about this very thing. And yes, it’s an “Oh sure, it’s funny now” story involving the first time I met Steve Laube and how I didn’t know I was a humor writer.
Xochi: What are your top tips for humor writers?
1. Don’t let anyone change your voice. It’s the most important tool you have. That doesn’t mean you avoid being edited, it means you know yourself well enough to know when your voice is getting stripped away.
2. Find a critique partner who gets you and your humor, and who’s willing to always push you toward excellence.
3. Be natural, but deliberate. Pay attention to how humor works, and the beauty of the unexpected. Make every word and every punctuation mark work for its place.
Xochi: What pitfalls should aspiring humor writers avoid?
Erin: There will be people out there who just don’t get your humor. Be okay with that.
I don’t love every comic out there, or every humor writer—even some that other people laugh at like crazy. So it’s reasonable to expect some people won’t like me. It doesn’t mean I’m a lousy humor writer. Even the greatest baseball players never bat a thousand. Humor writers don’t either. Not with individual jokes, and not with their writing as a whole.
Work on pleasing the readers who get your humor, and don’t feel bad about those who don’t.
Xochi: What would you like to say to those brave souls who may be on the verge calling themselves humor writers?
Erin: If you’ve had multiple people (and not just your mom or your best friend) identify and confirm this gift in you, then go for it!
Be strong and courageous. You have a unique, fun, creative perspective on life, and it’s time to unleash it on the world!
Xochi: Thanks for inspiring us with your contagious joy and charming sense of humor, Erin.
Erin: Thanks for inviting me, Xochi!