How to get over a creative lull?
September 15, 2014 11:57 AM   Subscribe

For something like the past four or five months, I've been in what I can only describe as a creative lull. I work as a comedy writer and have been doing this for roughly two years, but for whatever reason, I am not producing material that I'm happy with any more. I'm looking for advice from people who have climbed out of something similar, or any insight into why this is happening. I realize the awesome irony of asking this question in a very serious, unfunny way.

A couple of caveats: This isn't an issue of me not being able to get jokes onto the page, or one of the standard "writer's block" dilemmas where someone can't seem to start writing. I am writing plenty of jokes, but nothing resonates with me by the next day. What is incredibly frustrating is that I can recognize why past jokes I've written are succeeding and why these are failing, but I can't seem to replicate past successes.

I have never been very methodical about the way that I approach writing, which has made it difficult to reconstruct. I've tried changing every variable I could think of, and even had a week where I just labored to produce as many jokes as I possibly could write, but nothing has changed. Honestly, my writing process these days just seems like a horrible facsimile of what it used to be.

Has anyone experienced something similar or found a way to course-correct?
posted by arsgratia to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What do you love doing? What are your interests? What subjects fascinate you? Not just "what is marketable right now" or "what are X and Y shows doing" or "what area of current events is easiest for you to make jokes about?"

I really struggled with "creative lull" type problems for as long as I was basing my work around what other people were having success with, or what I felt was marketable or I "should" be doing. Conversely, right now I'm in a really creative period with almost too many projects, and every single thing I'm doing is something I want to do, because it's important to me.

I've also never had much luck with Joke Writing as opposed to working on larger projects that are just comedic in general. But maybe you're a Joke Writer, so I dunno who am I to say I guess.
posted by Sara C. at 12:20 PM on September 15, 2014

I would recommend two things:
1) keep writing - even if it is crap. Just keep putting pen to paper.
2) change something up in your life. It might be as banal as writing with pen and paper instead of typing or as off-the-wall as learning how to curl. Take a different route on your daily walk. Read some Lynda Barry. Do something out of the norm that forces your brain to have to work a little. Find something that skews your perspective jussssssst that little bit.
posted by jillithd at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll speak to what I've seen of friends of mine who are standups who hit a sophomore slump of sorts after about their 3rd year of writing jokes. They suddenly get trapped in the same formats that they always get stuck in, and their old jokes start to taste like ashes because of it. You're probably just sick of your own voice. Heck it happens to twitter accounts too. My advice is to do one of three things based on what I've seen work for them:

A. Get a new mask.
Start an anonymous or parody twitter account. Join a website like Something Awful. Create a tumblr persona who writes insane letters. Something where you have to prove yourself with pure content but not as you.

B. Take a break.
Just stop writing or performing for 6 months. Including not going to shows, or listening to podcasts or watching Adult Swim or anything. No comedy. Read a book. Go on a hike. Watch the news. Get some life in.

C. Go personal.
This especially helps for people who write very jokey jokes that don't have any personal content. Go to storytelling shows and just talk. Write a blog about your childhood. Tweet serious feelings. Also helpful for journalists and fiction writers. Poets you are SOL.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Great advice so far. You might also be on the downslope of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Keep going. I enjoy taking a break sometimes and seeing what other people in my creative field are doing or sharing experiences with them. Turns out that's really important.
posted by phaedon at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

My theory of comedy is this. Comedy is the quick release of anxiety. A classic comic bit involved a car driving down a two lane highway at night. Coming head on are two headlights. At the last moment we see the headlights are two motorcycles riding side by side and they split and go around the oncoming car. Tension raised, quickly sparked off.

If comedy is failing it is for one of two reasons. One is the tension isn't there. The other is that it isn't be released. To put the tension there you must face your anxieties (or the anxieties likely in your audience). To relieve the tension, you can not allow the anxieties to be sticky. This could be because of subject matter or because your phrasing is not permitting the tension to be released.

Choose a fresh field of anxieties for you. (for example, race relations - great tensions, very tricky getting the release, but the release can be great. And be careful with race relations, the tension comes from the successful walking of the tightrope. Fall and you appear a bigot.). You are guaranteed to feel something. Fresh territory should help with renewed enthusiasm in exploring.

One of the great race relation tension jokes played out like this. A young black man and an old white man are playing checkers. The black man makes his move.
The old man cries out, "You cheated!"
The black man takes offense. "What?"
"I said you cheated. You cheated because you're black!"
The black man is filling with anger at the slur.
"You're playing black and you moved a red checker!"

On the other hand... It may also just be a mechanical problem with your joke writing. Is the release at the end of the punchline? Can the punchline be made more surprising? Is the setup clear?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

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