I watched a piece a couple days ago that The New York Times put together about Jerry Seinfeld. It’s called How to Write a Joke, and it’s a mini-documentary where Seinfeld talks about the work he’s put in to writing a single joke about the debut of the Pop-Tart. Watching this video actually reminded me that there was once a time where the Pop-Tart (brand name) and the toaster pastry (the Pop-Tart’s multiple generic counterparts) didn’t exist.
But that’s not the point.
Seinfeld shows off (a bit to his discomfort) the writing process he goes through when creating stand-up material. It’s personal, it’s risky. He tells different parts of the joke, parts that make you laugh out loud when you didn’t intend to, and parts that seem like they still need work. But when you look at those long sheets of yellow legal paper and see the way he divides sentences, words, syllables to deliver the proper punchline at the proper moment…he takes what some people chalk up as a “natural talent” or maybe just a waste of time and turns it into a specially-honed, practiced craft. And regardless of whether or not you enjoy his work, you can’t deny that he’s one of the most successful comedians out there. The moral of the story: He’s successful because he works his ass off.
A colleague of mine is also a writer, but I don’t believe the works he creates are good. Personal biases infect all his opinions to a poisonous degree, he doesn’t pay attention to his composition, and some of the assertions he makes about particular items are downright inaccurate (also known as wrong). I like to think (or hope) that if my works were put side-by-side with his, one would point me out as the “good writer.”
But there’s another key difference between this other writer and myself: he regularly publishes content. Where I can be known for going through spurts of creation and then periods of disappearing off of the radar, this guy consistently creates new content and not only comes up with new ideas, but puts in the work to make them real.
Poke the Box, the Seth Godin book I talked about in a previous post, talks about how being successful isn’t about always creating successes. Success is about creating absolutely anything often enough, with enough passion and skill, that your wins eventually outweigh your losses. Not every project will be a home-run, and in fact, most probably won’t. But if you keep working hard at what you do, improvement almost inevitably comes with time.
So, in a sense, maybe he’s the “good writer” between the two of us. But quality and skill in any situation come with hard work, practice, and commitment, and even two out of three simply won’t be good enough.