The Art of Being Silly

So far in this series I've focused on physical fitness, nutrition, and sleep habits, but this one is a little bit different. Today, I want to talk about being silly. I don't necessarily mean in your writing, though that's certainly an option, and in this crazy world we live in, I think we could all do with some fun, silly writing in our to-be-read pile. But I'm talking about letting go of inhibition, forgetting about what other people think, and giving yourself permission to be flat-out, whimsically, stupidly, clownishly silly.

We writers often share a handful of particular neuroses--and I want to be very clear that it is not necessary to have these neuroses to be a writer, nor am I trying to glorify or endorse them--chief among them being a tendency to think too little of ourselves while thinking too much about ourselves. It's the seeming paradox of being self-absorbed while also nurturing low self-esteem. What I've found to be true is that the best treatment for this is often in addressing how much I think about myself rather than how much I think of myself.

Self-awareness is a writer's friend. It is in knowing ourselves that we find the nuances of the human experience, and very often, it is this intimate knowledge and familiarity with what it is to be human that gives our writing its rich, relatable texture and pulls readers into our work. It's important. But one of the side-effects of self-awareness is this tendency toward self-absorbed self-criticism, and the way it manifests in our day-to-day lives is that it makes us intolerably serious folk.

If you can appreciate what a drag it is to hang around with someone who is perpetually serious, consider that the person who hangs out with you more than anyone else is you. Your attitude can adversely affect... your attitude. Especially in the forced quasi-isolation that many of us are still enduring as a result of the pandemic, we can easily slip into a self-reinforcing feedback loop of negative thinking that will make us absolutely sick of ourselves. It can quickly escalate to self-absorbed self-loathing. Which is absolutely unhealthy.

Now, I write horror and twisted, dark fiction; so what's the benefit to my writing style of breaking out of this macabre feedback loop of dark, negative thinking and letting myself be silly? Don't I want to nurture a bleak frame of mind?

Absolutely not.

Part of good writing involves taking risks. As Frank Zappa famously said, "there can be no innovation without deviation." You have to put parts of yourself into your writing that you instinctively want to hide from the world; it's one hundred percent critical if you want to create anything memorable or special. The first thing I ever wrote, when I was maybe ten, was a blatant regurgitation of my favorite book series: The Hardy Boys. It wasn't especially hard for me to do it, and it also wasn't something anyone would ever want to read. Neil Gaiman and Charlie Kaufman, in particular, have videos you can find on YouTube where they talk about this specific, self-revealing aspect of writing. What makes your writing unique is you. If you don't put yourself into it, you've got nothing worth writing.

Being silly is how you break down the walls of fear that separate you from your authentic self. All of us--writers and non-writers alike--have a natural, instinctive fear of being different. It stems from our evolutionary past, when being different from the rest of the tribe or pack might be threatening to our peers, and our survival depended on being as much like those around us as possible. But now, that isn't the case at all. In fact, despite how hard it can be to let loose and clown around, doing so often draws people to us.

One caveat: often, people think that sarcasm is the same thing as humor or silliness--and it can be--but often it's just that same dark, self-absorbed self-loathing masquerading as a dry, cynical sense of humor . People aren't fooled by this, and it won't help your writing (there is a way to be authentically silly in a dry, dark way, but it's somewhat rare, which is why it's so darn funny when people can manage it.). What comes across from this type of "humor" is annoying at best, and at its worst, it can seem like a cry for attention or sympathy. It is still, at its root, self-centered. To get to the silliness, you have to let go of the self.

I'll be the first to admit that this is more easily said than done. In fact, I would speculate that it might be a lifetime endeavor. But you can look around yourself and see people who are pretty good at it. You might be tempted to emulate their specific behavior (as a kid I used to go around acting like I was Jim Carrey, circa 1994--nobody appreciated it). But they aren't you, and like your writing, what you bring to silliness is something unique that only you have.

This is where I tell you how to do it, right? Well, I have to apologize. I simply don't know. I'm working on being silly the way Andrew James Rush is silly (Andy to my friends), and by default, it's different from your way. But I can assure you that you do have a silliness inside you. Everyone does! I think the best way to start is just to start. Next time you're out in public and you have that urge--the one that's always followed by a deep intuition that you absolutely can't do that--do it anyway. Obviously, not if it's going to hurt someone; that's not silliness. But if that intuition seems to be telling you that "everyone is going to laugh at you," or that "cool people don't act like that," just tell that voice to shove off and go for it. Chances are nobody will even notice. But you will. And you'll be that much closer to being the authentic self you need to be to write that important work of literature you feel compelled to write.

I hope you found this article helpful! Please feel free to peruse the website and check out my short stories. I've also added a new category for reviews, and a review for a fantastic short story collection by my friend, Jeff Vande Zande, called The Neighborhood Division.

Be well, be silly, and as always, happy writing!

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