There is this stereotype that writer’s are depressing, sad, lonely creatures who do nothing but drink and wallow at their computer. It’s amazing to me that some writers actually believe this stereotype too, as if those are the qualities they must possess in order to succeed. When I was editor-in-chief for my graduate literary journal, we all gathered together to brainstorm ideas for our upcoming issue and the theme we wanted to use. Picking a theme is hard because you want something vague enough that will allow writers to be creative and submit something unique. The previous issue dealt with the theme “Memory”, and majority of the nonfiction submissions were about Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It made the decision process rather difficult because we couldn’t narrow any of them down.
One editor suggested the theme “Joy”. I loved it. And many of the other editors did too. It was challenging and unique compared to the other journals out there.
There were a couple of editors who were not thrilled with it. They both suggested, “Sorrow”.
“I just feel like not many writers will be able to relate to joy,” one of them said. I had a really hard time digesting this.
During that same residency in my MFA program, I had submitted a humorous piece as my workshop sample. I wanted it to be part of my memoir/final thesis, and the topic was dating, among other things. I had written about my very first boyfriend in the seventh grade, and I had meant for the whole piece to be funny because looking back on it now, it’s funny to me. I’m a naturally sarcastic person who loves comedy, so I figured I would take a stab at being funny in my writing. I had a blast writing it compared to my other writing experiences. My workshop teacher seemed to love it, and many of the students did as well except for one. He had no idea that it was meant to be funny, and didn’t find one comical thing about the entire piece. In fact, he was saddened by it if anything. I was really confused by this and wondered if maybe I wasn’t all that great at writing funny material.
I had many workshop teachers and mentors who didn’t typically write funny things. Therefore, I shut that part of my brain off completely, and since then I’ve struggled. When I don’t add humor to my writing, I feel like a fake and a phony. I don’t feel myself, and everything that spills out of my fingertips makes me want to vomit a little bit. It feels as though I’m screaming from the rooftops, “Boohoo! Poor me! Everyone should feel sorry for me!” Personally, if my memoir is ever published, I don’t want people to finish the book and be consumed with pity and sympathy. I want people to walk away relaxed, calm, and amused. I want them to laugh, cry, yell, scream, and cringe because those are all the things I’ve been doing when writing this damn thing.
I’m reaching the end of Amy Poehler’s memoir Yes Please, and I’m finally getting my funny bone back. Within the first twenty pages, Amy reminded me of things I’ve forgotten about, and I’ve added quite a bit of new material to my memoir that I actually feel proud of. She made me feel good about adding humor to my writing, and the different ways I could approach it without it being displaced.
It’s hard as a writer to please everyone, and you have to remember that you can’t. Some people are going to love your writing and others will not. So stop listening to others and how they think your writing should sound. Don’t be afraid to write as if you are talking to your best friend in the whole world. Screw the rest.
Now that the tone of my memoir has shifted drastically, the titles have been a lot more fun to come up with:
I Wasn’t Invited to the Party
My Balloon’s Deflated
Picked Last in P.E.
Personally, I Wasn’t Invited to the Party
is my current favorite because it’s true. I was never invited to any parties.