Dan Harmon’s secret to improving bad writing

As someone who writes for a living, I’m often intimidated by my profession. Producing a great piece of content (and I’d suppose the same is true for a novel or short story, but I don’t write those) is a mixed blessing: on the one hand, you now have proof you can write something great that clients will pay handsomely for. On the other hand, everything you write from then on out will be (unfairly) compared to the really great stuff.

It’s paralyzing. Unless treated, it leads to missed deadlines, lost clients, and empty bank accounts. Also, you hate yourself because you know you can write great stuff, but you don’t have anything recent to show for it.

While I’ve found my own way through the problem of pre-writing paralysis, this recent piece by Community writer Andy Bobrow explains how Dan Harmon taught him how to work through “Sh– Writing Syndrome” and start producing great writing again.

Step five is delete. Keep the two percent that isn’t sh– and delete the ninety-eight percent that’s sh–. Rewrite it. Within your re-write, there will be two more percent that isn’t sh–. Then just keep tossing the sh– and replacing it until the ratio is tolerable.”

“How do I know when it’s tolerable?”

“I don’t know, make up your own answer, you’re the fu–ing hero in this, finish your own story, find your own Nemo, Schindle your own list.”

Mika and I are big fans of Dan Harmon’s Community and his latest series, Rick and Morty. Though those shows are the products of dozens (or hundreds) of talented people, Harmon-branded media tends to have a remarkable balance of dark humor, envelope-pushing, and intense humanity. This intense rewrite process could be the reason why they’re such successful shows.

(On a similar note, anyone else see similarities between the obsessive rewrite process Harmon advocates and impossibly high revision standards other creative greats exemplified? Thinking Steve Jobs, primarily.)