Louis C.K. Teaches You 5 Things About Writing If you can survive disappointment, you can’t be beat

by Craig Playstead March 10, 2016
Louis CK Writing Tips

We’re all searching for those secret, magical writing tips. There are new ones here, I swear. These tips come from a credible source because few writers, comedians, or creatives have ground it out for their craft more than Louis C.K. Trial and error is in his blood now and he’s been booed, canceled, shut down, and disappointed more than most. Which is exactly why his success is so sweet now and why he has a lot of wisdom to impart about writing.

I was reading this really cool article about what Bill Murray can teach you about life a couple of days ago and thought, “I wish I’d written that.” So, I basically copied the idea and wrote about the best comic/writer/societal mouthpiece we have right now, Louis C.K. He’s a creative force whose writing and delivery is not only hilarious, it can also be deep and cause you to think. Just like any great writer.

Louis has altered the landscape in content distribution on the Internet, how he creates his TV show (he answers to no one), and he’s even given the middle finger to Ticketmaster, selling tickets to his last tour on his website for $45 when he could have easily gotten over double that. And just when you think he can’t get any more impressive, he does. When he’s done with a tour, he throws his entire act away and starts writing from scratch. You will never hear those jokes again. No one does that.

So, I’ve combed through his acts and various interviews and found five gems straight from his foul mouth that’ll help your writing. Consider it a master’s class.

1) “When you write from your gut and let the stuff stay flawed and don’t let anybody tell you to make it better, it can end up looking like nothing else.”

At least 85% of the internet is crap you’ve heard over and over again. Write the stuff that makes you tick, those thoughts that scare you and causes those sleepless nights. Some of Louie’s best bit are so offensive and shocking that you know they come from the depths of his soul. Over the years he’s learned to deliver these lines so conversationally you fall on the ground laughing your butt off only knowing in the back of your mind that it’s highly offensive to most the country. An excellent example of this is his bit, “Of course, but maybe … “

Write stuff without worrying it will offend some, get real and reinvent something.

2) “I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.”

If you watch Louis’s stand-up from fifteen years ago, you’ll find that he wasn’t that good. Yet. There were flashes, but if he did an hour, then ten minutes were really gold. So what did he do? He continued writing and performing, and while others got frustrated and quit he plugged away in crappy comedy clubs until he perfected his craft. Writers and creatives need to do the same thing. The trick to making it professionally is not quitting when things absolutely suck. If you can stick it out and slug through all the bullshit, you’ll make it while much more talented people (no offense) will give up because they don’t have a taste for the grind. Working your ass off beats talent every time.

3) “If you can survive disappointment, you can’t be beat.”

See number two. The only people who deal with more disappointment than writers are comedians. The difference is when they bomb they have disappointed drunks staring back at them. No wonder they’re all such disasters. Can you imagine being heckled at work? Also, remember the author of Twilight got 14 rejections and that book went on to spend 91 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. And then tortured us for a decade with three terrible movies. The Chicken Soup for the Soul guy was rejected 140 times and then sold a staggering 125 million copies. Stick it out.

4) “As humans, we waste the shit out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like “awesome” and “wonderful” like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of wonder? You use the word “amazing” to describe a goddamn sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted “amazing” on a fucking sandwich.”

Word choice is everything, and it’s your job as a writer to choose the right ones at the right time and put them in the right place. Nothing is harder. Start by thinking about your voice. Would you use the word, “repugnant” in your everyday life? Well, don’t use it when you write then. It’ll sound weird and ruin the reader’s experience (side note: this is a huge mistake many editors make. They replace words in a story with ones that don’t fit the writer’s voice. More on this later.) Think about what you’re really trying to say and don’t complicate it. Simplify your writing and leave enough room for the highs and lows of your story. Don’t dramatize something when it doesn’t call for it. Your job is to make your audience care about what you’re writing, but don’t sugarcoat or oversell, that’s amateur stuff, and your readers will smell it a mile away.

5)  “Don’t be so locked into your shit.” 

Make sure you get out of your comfort zone and try new approaches, formats, and even a new medium. Once you start experimenting, you’ll become an idea machine and get even better at your craft. Think of Louis – he’s never locked into anything. He’s in just about every medium, throws his best material away and now puts his specials on the Internet for $5 instead working with the networks, who inevitably water the content down.


6) “It must suck to be other kinds of things.”

Just be glad you’re not an antelope being stalked daily by some predator for breakfast. Now get to work.


(Image courtesy of Wikicommons )

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