In the aftermath of Conan's departure from NBC, one (and by "one," I mean, "I") couldn't help but wonder, what would become of the writers (and by "writers," I mean "my friend, ex-Conan and ex-Daily Show writer Rob Kutner"). In addition to turning to Facebook statuses and Tweets as a pulpit and co-parenting his daughter with his wife, comedy writer Sheryl Kutner, Rob (who also authored "Apocalypse How: Your Guide to Turning the End of Times into the Best of Times," now available in paperback) finally has a chance to work on his own schedule and on his own projects. (Plus, lots of time to polish, and then gaze at, his Emmys.) But with this freedom of structure comes the need for self-discipline, and the mandate to not be distracted by things like the internet and writer's block.
At a local meeting of the Jewish Entertainment Network - Los Angeles (make your own joke about Jews and showbiz here), Rob held court in front of an audience of writers, content producers, directors and actors, talking about his comedy writing journey (he's going to hate that I used that word) and offering tips on how to overcome writer's block and stay focused on your work:
- Break down the problem. If it's a character block, ask yourself what the worst thing to happen to this character would be, or put two characters who shouldn't be together, together.
- Break the paradigm of the page. Don't think about perfection; just write something and have something to work from. Writing by hand gives you a freer atmosphere.
- Use a "TK" - when you know something is missing, but you don't know what - either it's too technical, or you can't get the joke right, put in a placeholder (TK: character explains how he's the perfect candidate, or something like that).
- Pick up a reference book, like the Bible or an Encyclopedia and look at words or phrases. Also pick up magazines and flip through them for ads and images.
- Develop a routine. Train your brain to turn on the writing machine. Otherwise, can't depend on it to work. Make it a ritual, train the muscle memory.
- Be decently rested - you're not going to be a creative genius every day.
- Unplug the router - get a change of scenery. Exercise without stimulus and let your brain breathe. Work on something else. Lie on your back, put your feet up, sit outside. (Not all at once. - EDK)
- Try consciously avoiding writing - force your mind to want to write.
- Create deadlines for yourself. Rob recommended a Deadline Club.
- Don't turn to chemicals - those ideas don't seem to work. You need to stay more grounded to write.
- In terms of a writing exercise, Rob recommended USA Today as a great way to know what's happening in the mainstream - find stories there, write the setup, and then get a sense of where it might be going.
- Consume other people's writing, get back in touch with what got you into writing to being with. Watch, read or reconnect with the things that encourage you.