Ginny Hogan, stand-up comedian and author of Toxic Femininity in the Workplace, has amassed 80,000 Twitter followers and regularly publishes in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Cosmopolitan. She spoke with Compound Writing’s Stew Fortier about how she built a loyal following and why you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment.
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1. Writing bad stuff is an important step on the way to writing good stuff.
When it comes to getting into a writing habit, it’s important to power through the days when the right words just aren’t coming.
“I’ve had to get rid of my existing notions of productivity and remember that writing bad stuff is part of writing good stuff. If I spend an hour working on something that ends up being no good then I’ll eventually get to spend an hour working on something that is good. That's how I try to think about it; you have to get the bad stuff out of your system so you can figure what ideas work and eventually write something good.”
2. Let the audience know how your brain works.
Ginny is a firm believer that in order to make your writing funny, you have to reveal who you are. Instead of trying to be palatable to everyone, she suggests leaning into your own, unique point of view – the more complex and illogical, the better.
“You want your audience to relate to whoever is telling the story. You want them to be inside the brain of the narrator, which is likely you. Even if you're writing about something heavy or something sad, you can still let them know how you think. There are still going to be funny intricacies to the illogical way that your brain works.”
3. Don’t be afraid to ask your audience for what you want.
Ginny is not a fan of playing it cool on the Internet. To build a community around your work, she recommends hustling for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or look like you’re trying.
“In terms of building an audience, I was very conscious about it. Early on, I would follow random people to try to get them to follow me back. Even now, if a tweet blows up, I tell people in the comments to follow me and I think I get a higher retention from doing that. It can kinda look lame but my overall philosophy, and this is true in all parts of my life, is that I never want to pretend to not be trying. I try very hard and I think that one of my main strengths and I don't see the point in hiding that.
I never try to play it cool on social media. I never try to pretend that I don't care whether or not I have followers, because I do care. Don't be afraid to ask people to retweet you. Just ask. This is a really big trick maybe for all of life but people don't like to say no. It's just way easier to say yes, so if you ask someone something that’s easy for them to say yes to, they probably will.”
4. Get rid of every word that doesn’t matter.
In writing, less is more. As a stand-up comedian, Ginny had to stick to short time windows for her sets, meaning she needed to be strategic with every word. She thinks the same philosophy should be applied to written work.
“Stand-up is really good for brevity, for figuring out how to just cut every word that doesn't matter, and that comes in handy with all kinds of writing. My stand-up is far and away the most edited work that I've put out. If I'm telling a 10 minute set of jokes that's intended to be my best set, it's jokes that I've told hundreds of times and iterated on wording variations and cut out any word that isn't necessary.
What I learned when I cut these jokes down to their most succinct form is to get rid of any word that doesn't matter. Sometimes I get feedback from editors on essays where I send them 1,500 words and they ask me to send back a 1,000 word version. I’ll think, ‘I can't cut this down by a third without losing a lot of the meaning.’ But then I realize that I can.”
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