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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?

11:35: MY DEADLINE IS IN 25 MINUTES!

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 Amazon.com
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