What Counts as Writing?

Hanging around with friends and other panelists of the GenCon Writer’s Symposium this year, I was hit with an unexpected question several different times.

“So, are you trying to be an author, or a comedian?”

The question caught me off guard, although in retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have. People love labels and categories. It makes things easier to separate and understand quickly.  But the tendency also builds up artificial barriers that make it hard to see the whole picture.

To outsiders, I can understand why stand-up and writing fiction might look like different disciplines. Stand-up requires a degree of human interaction and public speaking absent from putting words to page. Many of my more introverted writer friends can’t imagine the “bravery” it takes to get in front of a crowd and do something like this.

But from my perspective, the bravery needed to get on stage isn’t greater than the bravery needed to send out a billion query letters, just different. Both involve putting yourself out there to be judged by a harsh and often unforgiving public, and both risk a mountain of rejection. The only difference with the stage is rejection comes in real-time instead of after weeks or months of delays. I’ve done both, and I’ll take the live audience every time.

The secret is both writing comedy and writing fiction are still writing. I don’t see any functional difference between them. Both are forms of the oldest and most human of activities; storytelling. I write and tweak jokes just like I write and edit short stories and novels. Both of them go through many drafts before their final versions emerge. And in my experience, both mediums inform and strengthen your talents with the other.

Storytellers are all performance artists. Whether you perform on a stage or on the page doesn’t matter. You are still putting on a show to entertain your audience. The borders between the mediums are disappearing in our age of cross-platform interconnectivity. How many comedians also write books or maintain blogs? How many authors do interviews, panels, and seminars?

I’m not saying that all writers should immediately go out to an open mic and start slinging jokes, but with the changing nature of the job, I think it’s important to build your platform and grow your fan-base through any available channel. There’s nothing wrong with using whatever your other strengths are to accomplish that.

I don’t want to be known as just a comedian, or just an author. I want to be known as an engaging and entertaining storyteller. The labels don’t matter to me so long as the audience comes along for the ride.

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