Friday, February 27, 2015

Successful Column Writing Secrets

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2004.

Despite my complaints that I don't have many readers or get enough feedback from them, I actually have some great readers who write to me on a regular basis.

Many of them ask me if I would like to refinance my home, buy male enhancement pills, or tell me that they know of another reader — usually a hot Russian woman — who wants to meet me.

I get hundreds of these messages every day. It's messages like this that makes my life of writing worthwhile. I really feel the joy when, for example, a Nigerian prince offers me millions of dollars for my work.

Occasionally, people will ask me "How far out do you write your columns?"

Way far out, man. It's, like, groovy, you know.

"No, no," they say. "How far in advance do you write your columns?"

I'd like to say I write my columns weeks in advance, and that I am well prepared for any emergency. But I'd also like to say that I'm fabulously wealthy with abdominal muscles you could grate cheese on.

Obviously neither are true. In fact, in true writer's fashion, I wait until the last possible minute to write my columns. At least, this is what my editors tell everyone.

So, to answer everyone's burning question, here is my weekly schedule for successful humor column writing:

Friday morning (six days before my deadline): I need a topic.

Tuesday afternoon (two days before my deadline): I still need a topic.

Thursday, 5:00 pm (7 hours before deadline): OH CRAP, I NEED A TOPIC!!

5:01: Cruise the Internet before I go home. Maybe I can find a news story to think about while I drive.

5:10: Nothing interesting happening today. Aren't stupid people filing lawsuits anymore? I'll brainstorm in the car.

5:11: Ooh, I haven't heard that song in a long time.

5:14: Or that one.

5:55: Oh good, I'm almost home. Now I can relax and — OH CRAP, I STILL NEED A TOPIC!!

6:00: There are my kids. Maybe I could write about that time that — no, every baby does that. How about the time when — no, she'll already have enough therapy when she's older. Don't you hate it when — nope, too Andy Rooney-ish.

6:01: Kiss my wife hello. Maybe I could — not if I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.

6:20: Visit the dog. Don't bother. Every humorist does at least 12 columns on dogs, and I'm getting close to my limit. How many new jokes can I do on eating, sleeping, and peeing?

6:25: Dinner time already? Man, I'm tired.

6:30: I'm too stressed to eat, I have to think of a topic.

6:31: So what's the deal with broccoli? No, too Jerry Seinfeld.

7:30: Maybe watching some TV will give me some ideas. But just for a few minutes.

8:30: Oh boy, "Scrubs" is on. That's a great show. I wish I could write as funny as that. Hmm, if only I was a. . . uh-oh, I'd better think of something fast.

8:31: I haven't seen this one. Maybe this will inspire me.

9:00: Okay, show's over. Now it's time to get serious. I need to buckle down and find a topic.

9:05: My desk is a little messy. Maybe if I cleaned it off, I would get inspired.

9:10: Nope, nothing there. Maybe if I organize my CDs.

9:25: Nothing there either. How about picking up some clothes.

10:00: I really need to clean my office more often. Let's see, I had something else to do — MY DEADLINE IS IN TWO HOURS!

10:30: Wait a minute, I keep a file on my computer of different topic ideas.

10:31: Fishing? No. House maintenance? No.

10:40: Think, dammit, think!

10:50: Ah-ha, I've got it. I'll do one about beer drinkers vs. wine drinkers.

11:00: Actually, a beer sounds pretty good right now.

11:30: (BURP) I need to buy more beer tomorrow. Now, let's see. . . what was I doing?


11:55: Hurry up, you stupid spell checker.

11:56: What do you mean, "Deckers" isn't in the spell checker dictionary?

11:58: Paste it into the email, hit Send.

11:59: Made it just in time. I really need to start writing these things in advance so I don't have to go through this each week.

Next Thursday morning: Hmmm, I need a topic.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Support Group of Misfit Toys

According to Arthur Rankin, the Dolly for Sue's problem was that she was rejected by her girl, Sue, which gave her psychological problems and she believed she was unlovable.

Heather: Thank you all for coming to group today. I know the weather's been rather cold and dreary, and we're all fighting cabin fever. But we're in our safe space, where we can discuss and own our pain without judgment or fear. Who'd like to share first?

(No one answers.)

Heather: Charlie, how about you?

Charlie: Well. . .

Heather: Come on, Charlie. You haven't shared with the group since before Christmas. I'm sure we'd all like to hear from you.

Melvin: Yeah, come on, Charlie. Let's hear your share.

Charlie: Alright. I haven't shared anything because I was sure I was going to get called up this year. But since you-know-who didn't come to the island again — that's 10 years running, you fat jerk! — I just stayed scrunched inside my box. I literally haven't talked to anyone until now.

Dolly: I hear you, Charlie. I haven't left my house since Christmas night.

Charlie: That's not the same thing. You have a house. You can come and go as you please. I just sit in this stupid box until someone cranks the handle.

Heather: Now, Charlie, remember the rules of the group. Every toy has valid feelings.

Charlie: Yeah, but not every toy bears my stupid burden. It's been 10 years, and still no one wants a Charlie in the Box?

Tex: Not too many people want a Jack in the Box either.

Charlie: Why don't you fly your ostrich off a cliff?

Heather: Boys, boys! That's enough. Charlie, would you like to finish your share?

Charlie: Sharing. Just because I'm misnamed doesn't mean I'm misnaming other things. It's not 'a share,' I'm sharing. You know how I feel about that.

Heather: You're right, Charlie. I owe you an amends.

Charlie: *Groan!*

Dolly: Everyone knows how you feel about that, Charlie.

Charlie: Then I would ask everyone to respect my feelings on the matter. Also on the 'amends' thing too.

Heather: Fine, Charlie, I'm sorry. Would you please finish sharing?

Charlie: I've just been angry at all the lies. Moonracer promised us this Christmas would be different. This time, we were all going to be picked up and delivered to children. We weren't going to be misfits anymore. And this year, like every other bloody year, I believed him. He lied to us yet again, and like a sucker, I believed him.

Melvin: You can't be too hard on King Moonracer. He's got a tough job.

Charlie: Well, of course you'd defend him, Melvin. You're his polka-dotted footman. It's your job to defend the winged fraud, but not me. I'm out.

Melvin: But you're our sentry!

Charlie: Not any more, I quit. I'm just tired of it. Tired of the the lies, the raised expectations, and the dashed hopes. I'm even starting to question what I can gain from this group. It's not like we're going to get better. We're never going to get better. We're all misfits, we're all forgotten, and there's no point in getting better, since none of us are ever going to leave here!

(Charlie scrunches down into his box and slams the lid. Melvin pats the box lid in sympathy.)

Heather: Charlie, thank you for your — for sharing. When you're ready to come out, we're ready to listen and support you. Who else would like to share? Dolly?

Dolly: Okay. I tried looking for Sue last week.

Melvin: No, Dolly. You said you weren't going to do that.

Dolly: I know, I know! I feel like a failure. Last month, my stretch was to stop trying to find her, and I was doing so well. I mean, I took up smoking again, just to have something else to crave, but they don't taste as good as they used to. So when I stopped again, the urge to find her came back as strong as ever.

Melvin: But she abandoned you!

Dolly: But maybe she only moved. Maybe she's looking for me, even now.

Melvin: Dolly, you know she didn't. We've talked about this in group for the last 10 years.

Dolly: I know, Melvin. In my head, I know she's gone. But in my heart, I still love her. I can't hold onto a stupid boyfriend, because I don't feel like I can be loved. I can't even hold down a stupid job at a perfume counter. But I can hold onto a hopeless dream for 10 years? Crazy.

Melvin: You know, I've kept Carl the jelly pistol in my cupboard for the last six months. I think he's fermented by now. Let's watch Toy Story 2 and get drunk this weekend.

Heather: Well, it sounds like we've all got things to work on for next week. Tex, I'd love to hear about how you and Olly are doing on your cattle drive. Sheldon, we'll talk about your swimming class for birds. Dolly and Melvin, please don't overdo on the jelly wine. And Charlie, if you can hear me, I'll stick around for a little while if you want to have a process — sorry, process your feelings — afterward. Thanks everyone, have a good week.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, February 13, 2015

I've Been Shaving All Wrong

Apparently I've been shaving wrong for the last 33 years.

At least that's what a fancy shaving store saleswoman hinted at when we discussed my shaving habits.

I recently stepped into The Art of Shaving store where they sell different versions of a four-step shaving kit for many, many dollars. Things like scented oils, fancy foams, and brushes made from badger hair.

Plus a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle for $200.

I really, really liked the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle.

The saleswoman said the razor handle is "perfectly balanced" to aid with "blade pull."

Because that's a thing now, apparently.

"How are you this morning, Mr. Deckers?" they'll ask at my coffee shop one morning.

"Not too good, Zach," I'll say. "My blade pull was a little off today."

"Ah, that explains the arterial spray on your shirt."

The saleswoman tried to convince me of the wonder and beauty of their four-step shaving kit, and how it could revolutionize my whole morning routine by turning a five minute chore done with soap and a razor in the shower into a 30-minute drudgery with four expensive ingredients.

Their fancy four step process starts with a shaving oil, then a special shaving cream applied with the badger hair brush, then shaving with the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, followed by a post-shave oil.

Then all your friends will laugh at you for smelling like a high school kid on his first date.

I walked into the fancy store, sporting at least four days of growth, and a goatee that looked more like a goat. It wasn't my intention to upset anyone, but once I saw how fancy the place was, I figured there was no harm in trying.

The saleswoman asked me what my usual shaving cream was

"Lever 2000," I said. "I shave in the shower."

She had been trained not to shriek at clients, so she remained calm. But she did develop a tic in her left eye when I said I only shaved every two or three days.

I started shaving when I was 14, a couple years before I actually needed to. I was so eager that I started as soon as I saw the first hair on my chin. It was probably one of my head hairs that got stuck after eating soup, but that didn't matter. Now I was a man! It was time to prove it by removing all the hair from my face.

Before then, when my dad wasn't home, I would lather up and "shave" with the plastic lid from the shaving cream can, so I wouldn't cut myself, pretending it was a real razor.

It was my stepdad who told me the best way to shave. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your face can take," he said

I still say it to myself whenever I shave at the sink. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your—ow, son of a—!"

The problem isn't how hot my face can take. It's that the water burns my fingers and I jump around and flap my hand like I smashed it with a hammer.

Besides that, most shaving advice varies wildly:

- Use a good moisturizer. Don't bother with a moisturizer.

- Shave in the shower. Shave after a shower.

- Use proper shaving cream. Soap is a suitable shaving cream. What are you crazy? Shaving with soap will make you look like the Elephant Man!

- Shave with the grain, and then against the grain. Under no circumstances should you ever shave against the grain! It's like crossing the streams in 'Ghostbusters,' only worse.

According to the advice from my fancy shaving saleswoman, everything I've done up to this point is wrong. I don't use any pre-shave treatments, post-shave treatments, or lather between shaving with and against the grain.

And I don't have a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, which means my blade pull is all wrong. I might as well be shaving with WD-40 and a rusted sickle.

I'm not a fancy guy. I don't need fancy razors and soaps to make me happy, or even give me a close shave. I've used the same brand of razors, Gillette Fusion, for years, and I use whatever soap is handy.

The whole idea of a four-step scented shaving process to me is a complete waste of time and money, and frankly, a little sissified for a guy like me.

Which is why I only bought the $25 starter kit.

I have a feeling we're going to be very happy together.


After I wrote this column, I actually ended up getting the full kit, not the starter kit. I also got a new Gillette Fusion razor. As much as I joked about the overdoing-it-ness of their four step process, I absolutely have gotten the closest shave I've ever had in 33 years of shaving, and my face is baby butt smooth. I may have teased The Art of Shaving in this piece a bit, but man oh man, this really is awesome!

Photo credit: MagicRobot (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Life as the Outsider Writer

I was always kind of awkward growing up. I wasn't one of the popular kids, the jocks, or the rich kids. I was the weird kid who did weird things. I played soccer and raced bicycles.

I was an athlete, I just wasn't one of Indiana's preferred athletes: football, basketball, or baseball. Other than playing football my freshman year, I didn't play the Big Three.

In 1980s Indiana, people looked at you funny if you played sports usually played by other people who didn't speak English.

To further cement my awkward outsider status, I was in the band. I was a band geek. I hung out with other band geeks, caused trouble with them, and made music jokes like, "Why did the dumb kid become a bass player? Because his mom told him to stay out of treble."

Compared to the theatre kids, we were awesome.

As a band geek, I was usually on the outside, looking in, but it didn't bother me.

I never liked what was "in," and so on the days I "looked in," I didn't like what I saw. I was more than happy being on the outside. I reveled in my outsider status and sought out the people who were unusual like me.

I drew the line at the choir kids though. I mean, I had standards.

Even now, 30 years later, there are days that being a humor writer makes me feel like I'm on the outside of the Indianapolis literary scene. I know dozens of writers here, maybe over a hundred, and only one of them is a humor writer.

I was just never into the navel gazing writing style of literary fiction, and I don't like the drama and pain of creative nonfiction. My oeuvre — that's fancy writer talk for "collection of works" — is humor. Like fart jokes, dysfunctional families, and the dumb things school administrators do in the name of Zero Tolerance.

Needless to say, humor writers don't get invited to do a lot of writerly things, since we make people laugh. The thought is that if people laugh because of your work, it must not be serious. If it doesn't make you sigh or dab at your eyes, it's not worthy of being called "literature."

Humor writers are not seen as real writers. We're the band geeks of the literary world.

How's that for a kick in the pants? In a community of people who were the outcasts and weirdos in high school, a community that has created its own circles and cliques, the humor writers manage to be on the outside there as well.

But I finally received some validation last week, when I was invited to speak at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in March, as part of a University of Indianapolis literary function. I'm even going to be the featured speaker.

I've never been the featured anything. Even at my own book launch, I got second billing to the cheeseburger sliders. And now, I'm going to be the featured reader at an event at the memorial library of one of my literary heroes.

I realize Kurt won't actually be there himself, but considering he's one of the reasons I became a writer in the first place, it's like I'm getting his nod of approval. That my work is worthy. That nearly 20 years of fart jokes and columns about the Oxford comma were important. I've been over the moon all week.

I'm not sure of the etiquette of the performance though. How long should I read? Should I read one long piece or several short one? Do I allow time for questions? What if no one has any questions? What if no one even comes? Do I have to provide wine? Should I get the audience drunk so I'll seem funnier? Or should I get drunk, so I won't care?

And the most important question, what am I going to read?

I asked Kaylie, the organizer, what I should read, and she said I could read some of my columns, or I could read one of my books. Considering I write social media marketing books, which are also not literary or dramatic, I don't know how interesting that would actually be.

I posed the question on Facebook, and received a variety of suggestions: Green Eggs And Ham, Kanye West lyrics, the Song of Solomon, or my personal favorite, Everyone Poops.

I'll most likely read some of my humor columns and maybe a short fiction piece or two. Maybe I'll even write a piece in the spirit of another literary hero, Dave Barry.

I'll call it Everyone Picks Their Nose.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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