Barry Smith: Carefully planning the writing process
Regular readers of this column will probably be surprised to learn that each week’s seemingly spontaneous offering of insight and hilarity is actually planned out well in advance.
At the first of each year, I sit down and make a precise outline of the next 12 months’ worth of columns, so that when the time comes each week to sit down and write, I have a clear direction to follow.
This year I’ve decided to share this outline with you, giving you a little peek into my creative process. As always, you’re welcome.
January – Pretend that I actually outline my column writing for the year. Publish “outline” column. Do fake “Biggest Stories of 2002” column. Use jokes from last year’s column of the same theme.
February ? Write cynical Valentine column, maybe with “funny” romance tips. Do a “Bartlett’s Unfamiliar Quotations” column, with made-up “funny” quotes by people with “funny” names. Write about how cute wife is.
March ? Birthday. Turning 37. Make some “I’m Getting Old” comments, preferable “funny” ones. Maybe do a “Things I’ve Learned Now That I’m 37” column. Use jokes from last year’s “Things I’ve Learned Now That I’m 36” column, the ones I stole from the old Bob Newhart album.
April ? People would, if given a chance, flock to watch a skilled writer at work. Write a column offering people a chance to come by and watch me write a column. Why should glass blowers get all the groupies? Make it a contest, like maybe a trivia quiz. One that’s “funny.” No point in waiting until the last minute to write the follow-up column (“funny”) about how no one responded to my contest. Make glass-blower joke.
May ? Spring in the mountains! As the snow melts, ponder love, and rebirth, and the miracle of the seasons. Mention bird song, and sunlight, and photosynthesis. Make it “funny.”
June ? Hand in a bunch of disjointed, poorly punctuated ramblings about my coffee consumption. Pass them off as “poems.”
July ? Summer in the mountains! Write about bird song, and sunlight, and photosynthesis, as no one was paying attention in May.
August ? Here’s a funny prank: if someone falls asleep on the couch, like at a party or something, dress them up in ragged clothing and put a long, scraggly, fake beard on them. Have everyone else in the room dress in futuristic clothing, and quickly change the decor so it looks like the Jetsons. When the person wakes up, tell them it’s 2103. Ha! Like they’ve been asleep for a hundred hears! Try to get a four-part column out of this idea.
September ? Write about growing up in Mississippi and try to work in the fact that it’s funnier, when using a number to illustrate a point, to use one with a decimal in it. For example: “It took me about three seconds to decide I didn’t want to try the ham and Jell-O salad” is not nearly as funny as “It took me about THREE POINT TWO seconds to decide I didn’t want to try the ham and Jell-O salad.”
October ? Rewrite a bunch of old protest songs as if they were being sung by children. Make them “funny.” Can’t think of any examples of old protest songs at the moment, but I’ll do an Internet search when October rolls around. Better have some more poems about coffee standing by, just in case.
November ? Really work the Thanksgiving angle. Write about gluttony, Indian massacres, the rapid depletion of natural resources and world hunger. Make it “funny.” Also consider: turkey cooking tips, leftover tips, entertainment tips. Funny ones. Introduce the concept of “faux-fu,” imitation tofu for those trying to wean themselves off of being vegetarians.
December ? The holidays! A deadline-junkie’s dream season. Rewrite well-known holiday songs so that they openly mock religion, tradition, Jesus, the president, the family and heartfelt sentiment. Make them “funny.”
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I have been fortunate enough, recently, to have the chance to spend some time closer to my family while working remotely. The original plan was to head back home for a friend’s wedding, but that…