How I Can Help You
Posted on March 3, 2012
Isn’t it interesting how important pronoun placement is in the English language? Take my title for instance, “How I Can Help You.” What I mean by that statement is – help me to help you. What I don’t mean is “How Can I Help You?” The two sentences are totally different. For one, the first example is a statement and the second one is a question. The first one, is advice being doled out by someone with experience. The second one is something said by a barista when you go for your morning coffee and muffin.
This being my 41st post, I thought I’d write a piece that included some writerly/ artist-ish advice.
So, just who the hell am I to give advice after only writing 41 posts? Well, no one, really. And yet, everyone, actually. Is that Buddhist enough for you? (Big smile.) The truth of it is I’m a comedian, who has made a living slinging jokes. Comedian – is the word that has defined me for the great majority of my adult life. I’ve done comedy for well over 16 years. When I say “done” comedy, what I mean is out, close to every single night doing spots in New York city and in 30 out of the 50 states over that last 16 years. Committed. Completely. For the last 5 years of that 16, I made my full-time living from it. Now you know.
The current word that best describes me today is writer – writer first, comedian second. That is by choice. The writer word has happened over the last three years consistently. I wrote a book of essays that almost sold. Then a second book that I didn’t like and canned. Now, I’m on my third. While doing all of that I wrote two spec scripts and at least a dozen scripts and submission packets for television writing jobs. A few of them even landed me interviews with exec producers and head writers. That basically means I know my way around writing a joke.
Now, I think you should know why I started this blog. I wanted ONE consistent writing project to happen every day – hopefully for a year – outside of my longer writing projects. I wanted this consistent writing to get feedback and hopefully a portion of that feedback would come from outside my existing network of fans and friends. That’s one of the reasons that I did it anonymously. Not because I’m someone famous, far from it, but because I wanted nothing to distract from the writing. If a friend stumbled upon it, I wanted them to NOT know it was mine. (At least not right away.)
So….let’s stop tiptoeing through the tulips. Here’s what I think is a MUST READ for every single writer and artist on wordpress and in the world in general. Period. Read it. Right after your read the rest of this post, of course.
I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. This is a piece by stellar screenwriter, Josh Olson, who wrote the film, A History of Violence. YOU MUST READ THIS PIECE. I am including a link to it at the bottom of this post. The gist of the piece is this – it takes years to get good at writing or anything else worth doing for that matter. So, a) if you’re experienced, don’t give away all your goods and your energy at the drop of a hat and b) if you’re new, don’t expect experienced people to do so at the drop of an email. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script:
There’s a great story about Pablo Picasso. Some guy told Picasso he’d pay him to draw a picture on a napkin.
Picasso whipped out a pen and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, “One million dollars, please.”
“A million dollars?” the guy exclaimed. “That only took you thirty seconds!”
“Yes,” said Picasso. “But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds.”
Makes a salient point, I think. For me it’s a point that I guard very closely these days.
You see, I had the “How Can I Help You?” problem for many years when I was doing comedy seriously. The how can I help YOU problem. I was always producing other people’s work, helping them get on stage, reading their writing, recommending them to people, etc. AND I did this all with very little regard toward pushing myself forward and helping my own career. I think of this as a women’s disease because unfortunately I think women fall prey to the “helper” thing far more than men. Men help themselves first AND THEN they help you. It’s like the flight attendant says, “Put the oxygen mask over your own face and then the damn baby…” Sage advice.
But, now my feet are planted firmly in the How I Can Help You department and as a result, my creative work is thriving. With that in mind, here’s who I read and help, first and foremost, and why.
Who I Read on WordPress.com
There are circles of blogs that I read on wordpress.com. Meaning the circle closest to me I read the most often. Then I read the circle outside of that one and then the circle outside of that. The circle that I read the most often are the blogs of people who READ MINE, comment, and like, the most frequently ON MINE. Sorry, but that’s just the truth. If people like a post of mine, the very first second I have available – I check out their blog. I like things, I start interacting. If they interact back – and this is important – and if they have focused content, I read them often. The second group of people who I read (the next circle if you will) are the people who interact with me less, but who have incredibly focused and stellar content. I can’t tell you how many times someone interacts with me a lot and I want to read their blog, but I can’t understand what the hell is going on. Is it thoughts about their day? Pictures about their world? Cooking tips? A paragraph blurb, beginning of something, instead of a well thought out piece? Wait, no, it’s all of those things. Jesus, I’m lost. You know what I mean? So, I read the interactors first, the focused-content-interactors most frequently, the focused-stellar-content people after that. And if I like you, I’ll read almost anything you put up. A book excerpt, some erotica, an auto mechanic’s handbook re-written in Swahili, it doesn’t matter.
Who I Read Outside of WordPress Blogs
Oh, my god, you read something outside of blogs?! Yes, I do. Mainly, stuff for jobs I’m applying for, the work of my close friends, and people who have careers worth aspiring to. So, I’ll pick up a Stephen King for kicks and a Mary Roach because I want to understand just how she writes the way she does. I read the scripts of my close friends in the business because I can usually learn something and they read mine. Then I read every spec and submission guideline for shows that ask me to submit or where I want to work. I don’t have time for much else.
Lastly – here’s the one thing I know, as Oprah would say. Comedians are an interesting breed. The most commonly heard sentence in comedy from comedian to comedian is – Hey, can YOU get me on a show? I can not tell you how many times a day I get an email like that. Now, of course, comedians have to help each other out. I believe in the camaraderie between comedians. In fact, I wrote this about just such a sentiment. As a comedian, I must have sent, “Hey, Can You Get Me on a Show” emails myself. Actually, no, I haven’t. I’ve sent, “Hey, I’d like to do your show” emails. Again, the delicate elegance of pronouns. I find that almost ALL of these “Hey, can you get me on a show?” emails come from people who have NEVER dropped me a line to say hi, they’ve never commented on a blog or a joke I’ve written, but if they’re coming to town they don’t hesitate to say, “Hey, Can You Get Me on a Show?” No, I feckin’ can not. Take a long walk off a short pier. No one wants to stop everything they’re doing to help you. Especially, a newly re-formed person who is FINALLY taking the time to work on their own creative thing.
Now, pay him or her some attention, help him or her, and my guess is they’ll go pretty far to help you. If they don’t end up helping you, feck ‘em, move on, and go to where the love is. But, watch where you place that pronoun because there is a generosity in the giving over of one’s time, but there can also be greed in the HOW you ask.
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