Writing Lessons from The Simpsons (V)

Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of comedy.

In the episode A Streetcar Named Marge, Marge Simpson is cast as Blanche DuBois in a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

This storyline was not originally conceived as a musical. In fact, a complete script was written with Marge and other characters performing the stage version. But then the network’s lawyer informed the writers that Tennessee William’s estate would only allow them to quote two lines from the play.

The same lawyer, however, saved the day:

Mike Reiss: One of the unsung heroes of The Simpsons is Anatole Klebanow…he always was in our corner, always pushing for us to get stuff that was marginally legal on the show

Al Jean: …So the lawyer said, ‘If you write original songs based on those characters, that you can do’. But actually, it made the show better because the songs are funnier than the play

The writers followed the lawyer’s advice and A Streetcar Named Marge is now consistently named as one of the top episodes of the series. (They have 26 seasons, so that’s pretty good.) As writer Jeff Martin said, “When we got that and we decided to make it a musical, I remember thinking, ‘Well, this will be a lot of work but I bet it’ll be funnier.'”²

He was right.

The lesson here is not just to listen to your lawyer. It’s to be tenacious. There’s an obstacle in front of you? Find a way around it. That way is blocked? Find another way.

When it comes to writing, tenacity is everything. Tenacity is allows you to finish a piece and start a new one. Being tenacious is how you hone your skills; how you revise and edit and get your words just the way you want them.

Tenacity is how you make your work better.

In this particular instance, being told ‘no’ allowed the writers of The Simpsons to go deeper into their work and produce something with real emotional resonance. If they’d simply followed the original play, they would not have been able to write clever and catchy songs that also supported the emotional arc of the show.

Where are you hearing ‘no’ when it comes to writing? Who’s telling you that you can’t do it? How can you work around the blocks and obstacles? Where can you go deeper into your work and explore what it’s truly about?

I’m not suggesting you break copyright law to achieve your goals. I am saying to be your own lawyer; be the person who’s always in your corner and pushing for you to write.

1. DVD Commentary from A Streetcar Named Marge, Season Four, Episode Two.
2. Ibid.


This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing piece or to just have fun with words.
1. A semi-melted plastic bottle…
2. The cutlery clattered into the draw and…
3. “I don’t believe you,” said…
4. Slats of wood lined the…
5. A very tiny pumpkin rolled…

Please note that this newsletter is changing form. This is the final article I will send and next week’s email will be the final Mini Marshmallow.

Have Montages Ruined Your Life?

Starting a new project is so invigorating. It’s exciting to open to a fresh page and uncap that new pen, or open a new document. It could be writing something for yourself, for school or or work. You always see the final result so clearly in your mind. It will be such a triumph! A masterpiece of epic proportions! You will get all the gold stars and the praise, and maybe even frame your project and hang it on the wall.

Then you start working. After about fifteen minutes, you begin to despair. Why is this taking so long? Why is it so difficult? You know what you want and you’re willing to work for it. So where are the results?

I blame montages. You know that scene in a movie or TV show where the main character refines her skill to the tune of an inspirational song? It’s usually something like a combination of hitting a punching bag, studying, running up and down stairs, practising her dancing and martial arts, then a sequence of winning minor competitions in anticipation of the main one. Montages are short yet powerful, and I think they’ve had a strong subliminal effect on many of us (most definitely including me).

We may know logically that purpose of the montage is to move the story forward. We want to see the main character achieve her goals and defeat the bad guys, not watch hours and hours of her studying or training. We may know that, but what if you have nothing to replace that image? What if you were never taught how to learn? Or you were taught that studying and learning meant sitting in one spot for hours on end? Of course you’d be frustrated and disillusioned.

The antidote is small steps. Write a small amount every day. If you can write more, great! Go for it. But if you can’t, that’s fine as well. Small steps add up to so much. It’s been proven, for example, that you’ll get a better result on an exam if you study for short periods of time each day. Cramming the night before only leaves you stressed, tired and unlikely to retain information. In the same way, writing for short periods each day will result in you feeling much happier with yourself, proud of your work and your progress, and the ability to experience the joy of writing.

Replace the image of the montage with something that represents consistency. I use a calendar and tick off the completed tasks at the end of the day. It might be something different for you: a vision board, a list of your accomplishments, little rewards for finishing your work, or a combination. All that matters is that it helps you have fun with your work and be consistent in your writing.

We can still get frustrated, don’t get me wrong. We’d all like to write even faster, produce more work and get recognition. But that’s usually just the montage effect, trying to ruin our lives, and we’re not going to let it win. Small steps, every day. We can do it.

Buffy: I thought it was gonna be like in the movies. You know, inspirational music, a montage: me sharpening my pencils, me reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked, ’cause in my montage I have glasses. But real life is slow and it’s starting to hurt my occipital lobe.
Out of My Mind, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Five Episode Four.

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. The tea bag catapulted through the air…
2. This new hand cream moisturises as well as…
3. Which superpower would you rather have and why: shooting lightning bolts from your hands, super speed or telepathy?
4. The glittery, green, gallivanting gargoyle…
5. I logged into my email and saw the most amazing thing…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Why Yes, I Am Overthinking My Work, Why Do You Ask?

Why Yes, I Am Overthinking My Work, Why Do You Ask?

When it comes to my personal writing, I’m usually working on several pieces of fiction at once. All of my writing is important to me, of course, but some stories are more important than others. It doesn’t mean I value the others any less. It just means that I feel a stronger sense of urgency about these stories, or I have a deeper connection to them. You know how it is.

I’ve been working on one of these extra-important stories for over a year now. A dear friend of mine has patiently listened to me talk about it and answered many of my questions. The other day, I told her that I’d finally got one of the characters and several scenes figured out.

“That’s really great,” she said, “but you’ve been spending a long time getting this story right instead of writing something new.”

Now, taken out of context, it might sound like my friend was being dismissive, but I can assure you that she wasn’t. She’s always been helpful and supportive, and she was also absolutely correct. I had been obsessing over getting this story right and worrying about every little detail. And here’s the kicker – hardly anyone was going to read it! This story will be shared with maybe five friends. Maybe. And that’s it. Yet here I am, fussing over every single aspect.

If you’re also an overthinker, then you know exactly why I was worrying about every little detail. We have to get things right. We insist on the words exactly matching the images in our heads and the emotions in our hearts. Our writing means something to us. We can’t simply dash something off and call it a day. No, it needs to be high quality or nothing.

The way I see it, overthinking is the flip side of our commitment to quality. We care about what we write and we want to do our best. This is pretty admirable! We simply get caught up in thinking rather than taking action. That’s all.

So here is a gentle reminder for both you and me: let’s loosen our hold, just a little bit. This might involve taking a short break or working on something new for a while. Or it could mean taking a step back, reviewing what we’ve done and being completely honest about our progress.

Then let’s go and do some writing. No overthinking, just writing. Allow the words to flow instead of forcing them into a pre-determined shape. Trust that the words know what they’re doing, and that they’ll get themselves just right, without too much fussing from us.


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. The air conditioner flew further than any air conditioner had flown before.
2. A delicate petal floated…
3. If you could be a cloud for just one day, upon whom would you target your rainfall and why?
4. The bell jingled, signalling the…
5. The fluffy ball shot over the fence and…


Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

You Want to Write What?

Last September, I was reading through a list of upcoming TV shows when one title made me do a double-take: Jane the Virgin. I read the summary and thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ The premise sounded ridiculous, even for television (and I’m a fan of some pretty ridiculous television).

Not long after it started, a dear friend of mine said to me, “You have to watch this show, it’s great.” I was sceptical but my friend has really good taste, so I gave it a try.

She was right. Jane the Virgin was nothing like what I expected. It’s funny, clever and well written, with many intriguing plot twists. At the heart of the show is a daughter-mother-grandmother relationship that is genuine and full of love. The show everyone mocked now has legions of fans, has been renewed for a second season and Gina Rodriguez, the lead, won a Golden Globe for her performance.

Why am I telling you this? Because we’ve all had ideas that made us say, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” At first, you’re energised by your idea. “That sounds amazing!” you think. “I’m going to write that down right now!”

Then doubt overpowers you and you don’t write a word. “My idea is just too weird,” you say to yourself. “No one will like it. People won’t be interested. They’ll make fun of it.” So you scrap the idea before even giving it a chance.

Don’t do that. Follow through on your amazing idea. An idea is only the starting point for a piece of writing. It’s where you take it that counts.

Write down your idea and then keep on writing. Elaborate, expand and follow through. Bring your idea to life with the passion you put into your words. Stand behind your writing. Do your research. Edit, revise and throw yourself into your work. Commit to showing the reader exactly what you see so clearly in your mind. Show them why your idea is a great one.

An idea is merely the vehicle for what you truly want to say. Jane the Virgin is more than a US remake of the Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen. It’s a story about family, love and struggle, told with authenticity and humour. So, what do you truly want to say? How do you want to tell your story?

Take the ‘you want to write what?’ response as a challenge. If your idea generates that much incredulity, then it probably means there’s something there worth exploring.

For this week’s prompt, I’d like you write about at least one of your ideas that you thought wasn’t worth pursuing. I know you have one – we all do. It’s that little niggling thought in the back of your head that won’t go away. Maybe you think your idea is boring, common, weird, extreme, overly sentimental or absurd. Whatever the reason, take that idea and write about it. Pursue it. Elaborate on it. Expand it. See where it takes you.

I have faith in you. I really do. I think your ideas are great and, more than that, I think you can bring them to life in a way that will enthral us all.

Happy writing,


Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Jump Into Writing with Ray Bradbury

EDIT 26 January: The correct link to the comic has been added. The name of the artist is Emm Roy and her Tumblr can be found here: http://emmisnotshortforemma.tumblr.com/

Hello everyone,

Thank you for being here with me in 2015. I’m offering something a little different for my first newsletter of the year. It’s a short video of Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, talking about his love of books, libraries and writing. Bradbury’s passion is soothing yet invigorating, and is guaranteed to make you smile. The video is appropriate for all ages and also includes a fluffy cat:

A Conversation with Ray Bradbury

Your prompt for this week will be the video. Select a word, phrase or sentence (or several – however many you need) that catches your ear, and write. I’ve included my favourite quotes below, in case you’re not able to watch the video but would still like to get started.

My absolute favourite quote is this one, partly because of the strength with which he says it:

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it! You do what you want, what you love.”

Now, every time you start doubting yourself, just remember these words and think, “Do I really want to disappoint Ray Bradbury?” and then you will think, “Of course not, I’m not a monster, I’d better get to writing,” and then you will write.

Merely being inspired isn’t always enough, though. Our brains can still get in the way. For the times when your mind simply won’t allow you to focus, I find that we need inspiration of a different kind. This comic should help:


And as a bonus, you can also use the comic as a prompt!

After today, newsletters will be published every two weeks on a Monday. (I was so excited to share this video that I decided to ignore my schedule and write to you now.) Some newsletters will also contain links to videos, articles or comics. Please know that everything I link will be appropriate for all ages. While it’s possible to embed videos and images in emails, I’m really not a fan of that.

Thank you again for being here. I’m grateful for every one of you. Hope you enjoy the newsletter and happy writing!


Selected quotes from A Conversation with Ray Bradbury

• “Clarisse McClellan is Ray Bradbury.”
• “You see, all my characters write the book. I don’t write the book.”
• “At the centre of my books is the gift of life.”
• “I’m going to have a t-shirt made. It says, ‘Stand at the top of the cliff and jump off and build your wings on the way down.'” (Where can I get this shirt?)
• “You find the author who can lead you through the dark.”
• “I spent nine dollars and eighty cents and I wrote Fahrenheit 451.”

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…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Tina Belcher, Writing Superhero

Welcome to all the people who’ve recently subscribed! Thank you for being here. Please know that there’s a special offer coming your way soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this week’s newsletter.

Tina Belcher, Writing Superhero

By Zee, Two Marshmallows

If you haven’t seen Bob’s Burgers, Tina is the oldest child of the Belcher family. She’s fourteen and she writes. A lot. She’s so dedicated that she gets up an hour early every day to write. She’s often the star of her stories, which tend to feature zombies, horses and how she has lots of boyfriends. Her family don’t fully understand the things she writes, but they encourage her creativity.

In one episode, Tina shares her writing with a fellow student she considers a friend. The student mocks her work and tells her not to show other people because they’ll think she’s a freak. But then, the so-called friend steals one of Tina’s stories, threatening to share it with the entire school unless Tina does everything she says.

It might only be a cartoon but those scenes are difficult to watch. Anyone who writes knows that some things are not meant to be shared. They are for the author’s eyes alone. And to have the courage to show another your work, only to be ridiculed in return? That’s just devastating.

At this point, Tina’s already a writing superhero as far I’m concerned. I don’t blame her at all for going along with the blackmail – she’s only fourteen and high school is brutal. But then she manages to be even more courageous, and does something most of us wouldn’t even consider.

Tina owns her work.


She writes an even more outrageous and extreme version of the story that was stolen. Then she reads it out loud to the entire school.

And then she keeps on writing.

Tina Belcher, Writing Superhero and a true inspiration to us all. She’s done being embarrassed. She won’t tolerate other people shaming her. She’s definitely not going to apologise for her creativity. And she has the courage to stand up and declare that this is who she is, this is what she likes to write, and that she’s going to continue, no matter what.


This week’s prompts

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

1. A broken-down, rusty old…
2. Consider the consequences of…
3. The bird fluttered its wing…
4. I threw the apple core over the fence and…
5. The dark liquid spilled…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Something We All Need to Hear

By Zee, Two Marshmallows

Hey there! How’s the writing going? Not so great? Yeah, that can happen. All those words going round and round in your head, and just as you try to write them down, they vanish! What’s all that about? It wouldn’t kill them to stick around a little longer, would it?

And what about those times when you do manage to get them on the page, but then you read them over and you think they sound terrible? That’s the worst. It’s hard to tell if they’re actually terrible or if you just think they’re terrible. All you know is that your skin is crawling with embarrassment and you have to look away.

Oh, and what about when you said you would absolutely, definitely get to writing today, but you haven’t been able to, and that makes five whole days that you haven’t written. And okay, your schedule has been kind of messed up because things have been so busy, but still. You should be able to get some writing done, right? Why is this all so difficult?

It’s okay.

You’re doing super great.

You really are.

Why, just look at all you’ve accomplished so far! It’s quite a lot. A few less-than-ideal days don’t discount what you’ve already done.

Writing has its ups and downs. During the down times, take a little break and give yourself some distance from your work. You’ll come back to it feeling refreshed and energised. The words will flow. What you wrote before was actually pretty good. It’s once again easy to be consistent and write on a regular basis.

In the meantime, be good to yourself. You’re doing super great. You really are.


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. Delicate embroidery and light…
2. The door handle rattled and…
3. Potato fun night!
4. Giant squid will…
5. What’s a question you’ve always wanted someone to ask you, but no one ever has?

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.

Which Do You Think Is More Important?

By Zee, Two Marshmallows

One of my favourite lines from Principal Skinner (a character on The Simpsons) is when he asks Mr Burns (local millionaire) the following question about business:

“Which do you think is more important, hard work or stick-to-it-iveness?”¹

Mr Burns responds with an unimpressed glare before asking if anyone has any real questions. The thing is, that is a real question. We are told that the path to success is hard work, which implies having to slog away for hours a day. But the key to achieving your goals is actually tenacity (or ‘stick-to-it-iveness’, if you prefer).

I met Kristine Tauch in March of this year. She had written several children’s stories and was looking for an editor. It was clear how passionate Kristine was about her characters and the worlds she’d created. She also talked about how she sometimes despaired of ever getting any of her work published, even though she believed deeply in what she was doing.

I had the honour of working with Kristine on her book, Kira and the Bubble Gum Tree [link http://www.fairplanetarts.com/kiraandthebubblegumtree/], and I learned just how tenacious she is. She was consistent with both writing and revising. Each draft was more polished and refined than the last, and the story was pretty good to begin with.

When it came to the practical aspects of publishing her book, Kristine was just as consistent. She set up a website, created a logo, and found a publisher and an illustrator and worked diligently with them. This process took several months. And it wasn’t always easy. But Kristine kept at it.

And now, Kira and the Bubble Gum Tree [link http://www.fairplanetarts.com/kiraandthebubblegumtree/]is for sale. The story is as cute as the cover implies. And Kristine is busy working on her next book. For being the embodiment of stick-to-it-iveness, Kristine is officially a Two Marshmallows Tenacious Transcriber: a category I just made up and there is no prize, sorry, but I’ll try to make a badge or something in Photoshop (who am I kidding, I can’t use Photoshop – a mention in this newsletter is as good as it gets). She’s someone who has inspired me and I hope she inspires you, too.

I think Principal Skinner’s question was a valid one. It just needed reframing. Hard work actually is stick-to-it-iveness. Taking small steps on a regular basis is being tenacious. When it comes to writing, doing a little every day will amount to a lot. It’s not always easy, but it is the way to get things done. Just ask Kristine. She’ll tell you the same thing.

1. The Old Man and the Lisa, Season Eight, Episode Twenty One


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. Sliding, swiping and smashing…
2. “That is the worst towel I have ever seen,” said…
3. The ants were marching…
4. What would your dream garden look like?
5. The passenger seat was…


Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.


Hi everyone! Time for another newsletter. I’d planned to write about something else, but this came out instead.

I’m putting together a writing course for people who want to write but find it difficult to get started. More details to come, but feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or would like to know more now.



Words don’t care what you look like. Words don’t care what you wear, where you come from, your age or your job. Words don’t care if you don’t have a diploma. Words don’t care if you do.

Words don’t care if you’re sad, happy, bored, excited, curious, lazy, studious, energetic, laid-back, loud, quiet, scared or mean. Words don’t care if you were rude to a stranger or if you were nice to your kids, or the other way around. Words don’t care if you think you’re a good person, a bad person or somewhere in between.

Words don’t care what other people think of you.

Words have a pretty carefree existence. All they want is for us to write them down. If you don’t feel like writing at the moment, then the words will stay on your mind, patiently going round and round in your head, until you’re ready to get them out.

Words don’t mind being moved around and rearranged. They don’t even mind being erased or crossed out – words know that they’ll simply be placed somewhere else when the time is right.

Sometimes, people ask me to write something for them, or ask me to help them with something they’ve written. Words are my bread and butter.

You can use words to do anything you want. Want to go to another planet? You’re there. Want to go back in time? Done. Want to tell the world how you truly feel? You can. Want to reach someone on the other side of the world? Easy. Want to reach lots of people all over the world? Go online and it’ll happen in a flash.

Words bring you comfort; words bring you joy. Words can destroy you. Words can ruin your day. Words are weapons and shields and the stuffed toy you had as a child that was your whole world.

Arrange words in the right way and you can accomplish miracles.

I was asked recently if I could think of a moment when everything flowed; when I was so engrossed in what I was doing that time didn’t fly by, it stood still. My answer was immediate – yes, when I’m writing. When I’m immersed in words, time does more than stand still. Time doesn’t even exist.

We can lose ourselves in writing because words will always be there for us. Because there are so many words that we will never run out of them. Because there is so much for us to say. Because words will make sure we never truly lost and that we will always find our way home.


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. “When I was your age…”
2. A small, shiny foil…
3. My headphones are…
4. Help, my crowbar is covered in glitter!
5. I hit refresh and…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net. Use the sign up box to receive the newsletter (and future offers) directly. You can also follow or contact me via Facebook, Linked In, YouTube or Tumblr.