Remember When You First Laughed (Writing Lessons from the Simpsons IV)

By Zee, Two Marshmallows

I am so grateful for the commentary function on DVD’s. Even though they don’t know it, the writers of the early episodes of The Simpsons have supported me, given me practical advice and boosted my confidence in my work.

No one really got my sense of humour when I was younger, so I always thought I just wasn’t funny. Over the years, I’ve come to trust myself more and more; mostly because the advice of professionals was to trust yourself. Here’s one of my favourite exchanges (bolding mine):

David Mirkin: One of the secrets, I believe, of good comedy and being a good comedy writer, is to remember the early response and not get tired of it. You know, what can happen is you’re writing, and you’re writing something that’s really funny and you hear good laughs and there’s a good response. And then because you have to live with it for a while, you start to lose confidence in it. You have to have a good memory and remember that it was funny, and remember what was funny about it, because a lot of writers panic and at the last minute, they start rewriting everything. And when they’re rewriting everything, they’re doing it in a very short amount of time so it can’t be very good. It’s only going to be something that you’ve rewritten in a week instead of something that you spent months honing. And so it’s a bad idea to do too much rewriting if it started out good.

David Silverman: Remember when you first laughed.¹

We all second-guess ourselves. It’s hard not to, I think. Many of us have been taught to please other people right from the start. Write to get good grades. Write in your best handwriting only. No mistakes allowed. You don’t want people thinking badly of you, do you?

And if other people respond well to our writing, then we start to second-guess everything else we do. “They liked my work last time, I have to make sure they like it this time! Is this sentence okay? What about this one? I should rewrite it yet again, and hold on, I see that I’ve used that word two times in three paragraphs, WHAT WAS I THINKING?”

Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Yours, not someone else’s. How did you feel when you wrote that line? Your response is what matters.

Remember when you first laughed. Remember when you first smiled. Remember when you first giggled uncontrollably. Remember when you first burst into laughter at a random moment because you remembered that funny line. And this doesn’t just go for comedy. Remember when you first became teary-eyed. Remember when you first got chills up your spine, or got angry on behalf of your character. Remember when you first said to yourself, “Yes, this is exactly what I wanted to say!”

The truth is that our first response is often the best indicator of whether our writing works. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Remember when you first laughed.

1. The Simpsons, DVD Commentary on Homie the Clown; Season Six, Episode 15

This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing one or to just have fun with words:

1. A big, plush, yellow toy…
2. Crystal prisms, dancing in the…
3. “I’m shocked that you….”
4. The drawer slowly slid open…
5. A burnt out match…

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