Write Funny, Win Money

August 22, 2019 § 10 Comments

Ever wondered how to get into McSweeney’s, the New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs, the Belladonna, Slackjaw, or another prestigious humor site? It’s not easy, but it’s not hard—write something very funny, make sure it fits the venue’s tone, send it in.

Step one tends to trip us up. How can you write funny, on demand?

Writing comedy is a learned skill. Yes, some writers start with more talent than others, but it’s not talent that makes an essay hilarious. Humor comes from a great premise (that you thought up after discarding 50 similar-but-not-as-good ideas), a specific point of view (that took a couple of drafts to get to) and tight, focused writing with careful word choices (that took another few drafts to whittle out of the initial bloated, semi-funny word glob).

Here’s a chance to learn the skill, and maybe win some money and/or publish your own comedy writing.

Slackjaw, Medium’s most-read humor publication (90,000+ followers), wants to support humor writers—and aspiring humor writers—everywhere, with their first Humor Writing Challenge.

Most writing contests are set-it-and-forget-it. Send in your work and hope for the best. This one’s different. Participants in the contest will be pitching ideas (so they can choose the best/funniest one to write), getting peer feedback, and re-writing. An online community will provide support and direction to contestants. Even if you don’t have a burning desire to write comedy, this process can introduce you to collaborative idea development, and how to solicit and implement editorial ideas in your own work. Plus, you’ll have deadlines to generate some specific assignments, and motivation to rewrite and sharpen your work.

The judges panel includes comedy writers for The Onion, Comedy Central, The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, etc, and there’s $2000 in cash prizes. Finalists will have their work considered for (paid) publication on Medium, too.

If you want to publish humor writing, or you need a kickstart on your autumn writing plan with a fun, supportive environment, consider signing up for Slackjaw’s Humor Writing Challenge.

Find out more and sign up here.


Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Find her at Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference this weekend, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram for choice bits of conference writing advice.

A Review of John Hodgman’s Vacationland

December 15, 2017 § 3 Comments

41n9vOPl0WL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Kevin Kotur

At some point as I was dancing to 50 Cent on top of a red vinyl booth at Angel’s Rock Bar, Thursday night slid into Friday morning, and someone shouted “Happy birthday, Kevin! How’s it feel to be twenty-five?”

“Shit,” I thought. “Twenty-five.” It’d never crossed my mind. By that age Mary Shelley had written her magnum opus, Rimbaud had retired, and Keats was dead. A quarter of a century, and what did I have to show for it? I looked over at my friends: two soon-to-be lawyers and a candle-making entrepreneur (the youngest millionaire in Kansas City) who was receiving a complimentary lap dance from an off-duty stripper.

And then there was me—a would-be writer with pitifully disconnected facial hair, slowly squandering the privilege afforded by his white, middle-class upbringing. For some reason, a bidding war had not yet erupted between the major publishing houses desperate to acquire my essays on nature and travel and girls and stuff. The successes achieved by historical geniuses (is it too much to ask?) had heretofore eluded me.

In that moment, as my friend and the stripper laughed simultaneously at the discovery that they were both gay, I realized that the stories I’d been telling myself were delusions.

In his memoir Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, John Hodgman finds himself in a similar situation—albeit with double the years, privilege, and facial hair. After his first two New York Times–bestselling humor books, a correspondent gig at The Daily Show, and his PC personification in Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads, something shifted for Hodgman:

. . . I had just realized that I was not going to live forever. The thought had never occurred to me before. I am a straight white man, the hero of almost every story I had ever encountered. What’s more, I am an only child. The idea that the world could continue without me was not only unimaginable, it was insulting.

So began Hodgman’s middle-aged turmoil, which Vacationland explores through his two homes away from home: the rural western Massachusetts of his youth and the jagged Maine coast of his adulthood. In creating a portrait of both locales—the landscape and its people, the charms and contradictions—Hodgman also depicts a precocious boy turned rule-loving, self-doubting C-list celebrity.

Vacationland is funny—not “stock praise in a book review” funny, but “people in Starbucks asking what you keep laughing about” funny. Although no longer cataloging satirical facts, Hodgman retains the wit and eccentricity of his previous books while covering topics such as the pranks of George R. R. Martin, accidental boat purchases, and the nefarious dealings of small New England mammals. “Raccoons” he claims, “are beyond fear, and they are assholes. I tried to chase a raccoon off our porch as it was casually emptying our bird feeder into its fat mouth. As I yelled, it turned its head and eyed me with such casual contempt that I apologized to it.”

The description of nerdy foibles and adulthood misadventures is reason enough to read Vacationland, but as the book progresses, humor yields to consideration of deeper issues. Hodgman is acutely aware of his privileges (skin, wealth, opportunity), and searches for the proper response to them. These reflections are timely. America has seen all too clearly the backlash from an inability of white men to accept the slightest challenge to—or even the acknowledgment of—their cultural centrality and privilege. “Whiteness,” Hodgman writes of the responses to police shootings and Black Lives Matter, “was going through a desperate midlife crisis.” But he spares us the self-flagellation, acknowledging that those with privilege can’t change who they are. But they can be aware of the world around them, contribute without fanfare, listen when others speak, and get out of the way when their work is done. “All places and experience,” he concludes, “deserve writing about.”

Between inventories of all of the reasons Maine is a terrible place to vacation, and amid scathing indictments of fudge and fresh-water lakes, the stories of Vacationland smuggle in questions of mortality, loss, and identity. Hodgman’s self-interrogation is at the very center, providing an example to all readers. “There are times,” he writes, “when all the lies you have told about yourself to yourself just fall away.”

That night, as the beginning of my life came to a swift and unceremonious close, I stopped telling myself that I was unprecedented, inherently interesting, and destined for success. There were younger, more talented, more dedicated writers out there, and I needed to get to work.
Kevin Kotur is an MFA candidate and Durwood fellow at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His nonfiction can be found in The Kansas City Star, Number One, and Chariton Review.

The Soul of Twit: The Book Has Cometh, Finally

May 12, 2015 § 3 Comments

downloadA guest post from Harrison Scott Key, followed by a link to this essay in tweets:

So, my book came out today, which is great. I started writing it about a million years ago, and about 500,000 years ago I made the mistake of telling people I was writing it, which means for about the past 250,000 years I have been answering this question:

“So, when’s your book coming out?”

This is a very disappointing question to answer almost every day it is asked.

“Oh, that’s a long time from now,” I’d say, when people first started asking. I almost scoffed, not at them, but at the ridiculousness of the question and the improbabilities it brought to the fore of my hurting brain. The distance between the terrible thing that happens at the writing desk and the thing that happens when you are reading a book in a bathtub is immense and can generally only be traversed by gods and angels and the persistent few who’ve wrestled blessings from them. So I just laughed when they asked, which they considered rude, to which I didn’t disagree.

“So, when’s that book coming out?”

When I finally got an agent, about 100,000 years ago, it seemed like less a ridiculous question and more like impatience.

“Eventually,” I said, not wanting to explain the process of proposals and sample chapters and the cryptic, fleshy methods of good literary agents, which mine was, I believed, because these people, most of them, didn’t care. And why should they? But the word eventually felt hopeful. With an agent, the vastness between writing (in between thoughts of suicide and elation) and being read (in between two covers) collapsed into a seeable distance, as though God had granted me eyes that could see past the 14-mile horizon and around the curvature of the earth.

keyman“So, when’s this book coming out?” friends would ask, about 50,000 years ago, after news of my book deal spread through social media channels populated by my people.

“A year? Two years? Fifty thousand?” I said, sheepishly admitting my ignorance of what happens next in the process of going to auction and signing a deal and agreeing to manuscript delivery dates, which seemed to confuse the askers of this question. How could I not know these things? Hadn’t I been writing it for nearly a million years? What was taking so long? Wasn’t I almost a billion years old?

“Leave me alone,” is what I wanted to say, but why be cruel to the few people who were kind enough to remember that I was a writer?

“So, when’s the book coming out?”

“As soon as I write it.”

This was about 25,000 years ago.

“Oh, it’s not finished?”


“Then how’d you sell it?”

“I have no idea.”

“That must be a lot of pressure.”


I delivered the manuscript about 10,000 years ago.

“Now what happens?” they asked.




“It’s not edited?”

“Not by an editor.”






About 5,000 years ago, when photographs of advance review copies started appearing on the internet, posted by funny editors and book reviewers and marketing interns who wanted to show people what early copies looked like, that’s when everybody really started asking.

“Is your book out yet?”


“When does it come out?”

“May 12.”

“That’s like a thousand years away.”


“I’ll wait.”

They seemed angry at me for making them wait, and I didn’t blame them.

Now, a million years later, it’s May 12, 2015, and my first book is out, and now I don’t have to explain why it’s not, which makes this a day for celebration.

And now, if you would like to know a little bit more about how I actually wrote the book that is now out and available for sale—that is, if you care, and many of you don’t, and I get that, and I feel you, I do—but if you want to a little vantage into how one little social media platform actually not only allowed people to learn about my book, which was great, except for all the asking, but also how this platform actually aided in the writing of the book that I was being asked about, then you should read this thing I wrote for Brevity and published on Storify, called “The Soul of Twit.”

It’s about how I wrote the book, sort of.

And then you should consider buying the book. It’s called The World’s Largest Man.

I look forward to your questions about it.

Really, I do.


Find out more about Harrison Scott Key at www.HarrisonScottKey.com and on Twitter (@HarrisonKey).

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