Three Tips for Writing Humor: Write Blind, First Things First, and Get Some Help, Already by @writingmatthew and @drawingrobbi plus a #Giveaway

Perhaps my greatest pleasure is making people laugh. Which is why pretty much everything I write is anchored in humor. It keeps my readers engaged. It allows for higher highs and lower lows. But how to create humor? Heck if I know. Writing this post forced me to think the question through. I’ve come up with a few suggestions. Maybe they will help you.

Swanson 11. Write blind. The key to all humor is surprise—a turn of phrase or twist of events that feels unexpected, and sometimes delightfully so. As a writer, I seek humor by creating voices that reflect the world with a pleasing slant. But for these voices to surprise my readers, I also have to surprise myself in creating them. Too much thinking makes for plodding prose. The more calculating I get, the less natural (and therefore, less funny) the writing becomes. For me, the trick is finding a way to think less, not more.

A few months back, I stumbled on a tool that makes it nearly impossible to censor and judge yourself while writing that first draft—because it sweeps away the fruits of your labor before you have a chance to realize how bad they might smell. I describe how it works in our exercise. It might be the simplest, most elegant way I’ve ever encountered to get the mind out of the way so that intuition can steer the writing process in the direction of fresh, uninhibited, funny prose. It’s also a fail-safe cure for writer’s block. And it’s free.


2. First Things First. My best jokes usually don’t show up until the end of a writing project. First I lay the foundation (character, plot arc, etc.), then I frame the structure (the specific business that makes up the story), and only then do add the siding and the windows, the molding and the mailbox. My brain has to do a lot of thinking to build the house. But once the guts are in place and relatively watertight, the imps are free come out and romp, elevating the voice and the dialogue, making the tiny adjustments that transform a solid manuscript into a delightful one. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be hilarious at the outset. Toil all day, then play all night.


3. Humor Loves Company. It’s impossible to be funny in a vacuum. Landing a joke is completing a circuit. It’s a gamble, a gambit, a leap of pure faith. If you are struggling to write humor, find someone to laugh with. It could be a friend to read your draft and tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Or it could be someone to help you build your jokes by making their own contributions. (Remember that comedic TV shows are written by groups of funny people sitting in a room making magic together.)Every book I write is created in close collaboration with my wife, the illustrator Robbi Behr (she who decided to electrocute me above). Sometimes, Robbi’s drawings elevate and extend my jokes by making them visual. Other times, the humor results from tension between the written and visual takes on a given situation. But Robbi is also my first editor, giving me an early gut check on my manuscripts and helping me develop jokes by lending an extra ear.Finally, just spending time with funny people can help get you into the right frame of mind. Humor depends so much on timing and pacing and instinct. Soak it in, and then channel what you’ve learned. Watch funny shows and standup. Read funny books. Be humor’s companion. Call it research. It’s not such a bad way to pass the hours.

Writing humor: the really short version:

Babies RuinTurn off your conscious thinking, judging brain. Humor comes from someplace deeper. If you can’t force yourself to be funny, let the app in our exercise help.
Don’t feel pressure to make your manuscript funny until you have the basics in place. Funny is the icing. Once you bake the cake, you can turn off your boring old brain and start to play.
Commune with humor, whether through collaboration or seeking feedback, whether by hanging out with funny people or gorging on funny material.

SwansonM_BehrR_headshotHusband/wife, author/illustrator duo Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr have collaborated to create the picture books Babies Ruin Everything (July 2016) and Everywhere, Wonder (February 2017) and the middle grades series The Real McCoys (Fall 2017), all with Macmillan Kids. In addition to speaking and leading workshops on collaboration and creative entrepreneurship, they have produced three small children and more than 70 self-published picture books for children and adults. You can follow Matthew at and Robbi at and visit their website at and their Babies Ruin Everything page at and their Facebook page at

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Matthew and Robbi’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Matthew and Robbi are kindly giving away a  Ridiculous Skype conversation . For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.


Reaching A Child’s Heart By Trusting Your Own by @wenmass plus a #Giveaway

MassW_book_001I hope you don’t mind taking a break from your regularly scheduled programing (ie: the craft of writing) for just this week. While considering how a writer might go about infusing their characters with heart, I couldn’t help thinking about how we have to remember to have it for ourselves first. If we want to convincingly create characters who believe in themselves enough to accomplish whatever their goals are within the story, we have to be their role models.

No matter where we are in our writing careers, so often we are (to borrow a phrase from Emerson) “… standing in our own sunshine”. We put ourselves down, we dwell on our failures, we downplay our accomplishments. I suppose there are writers out there who have loads of confidence and think everything they create is brilliant, but we must not hang in the same circles. The things we tell ourselves when something we write is rejected or gets a bad review is much harsher than what we would tell a friend if it happened to them. We would try to build our friend back up, insist they weren’t rejected, that the piece simply wasn’t a good match for that editor. We would remind them of all the rejection letters even the greatest writers got. We would convince them how they’ve gotten so much further than so many others who are still dreaming about putting pen to paper.

So be proud of all your hard work and fortify your heart against disappointment, against unsupportive friends or family who just might not “get” why you want to do this. Don’t ask for permission, because that might never come. Don’t be your own worst critic. There are plenty of others willing to take on that role (anonymous reviewers, I’m talkin’ to you), so rise above that and don’t help them along.

heartburstLet’s face it, we don’t write children’s books to become rich or famous. Our motivations run deeper than that. If you remind yourself why you want to dedicate your life to telling stories that could affect a child in ways you can’t imagine, it just might fill your heart to bursting. Then there will be no more room for negativity, only conviction and purpose.

Here are some reasons I came up with, but you will no doubt add your own. We write for the next generation because we were the kids reading under the covers with flashlights past bedtime and we remember what books meant to us when we were that age. I write out of gratitude for Narnia, for Margaret, for Charlotte and for Harriet, and each of us writes for the child in ourself. We write for our own kids to teach them what we wished we’d known. We write to entertain young readers, to make them laugh so that they’ll learn to laugh at themselves. We make them cry to teach them empathy. We show them adversity so they can learn to be strong. We pluck them from their lives and place them somewhere else, in the hopes that when they close the covers of the book they will come back to themselves stronger, with their minds open to new possibilities. We want to protect them and also challenge them. Writing for children is a big responsibility. By placing a story in their hands, your heart has reached their heart in a really tangible way. Your efforts have made a difference in their life. That’s the goal of the job, right? That’s why we do this. Well, that and getting to work in our pajamas all day.

For the exercise portion of this post, I’d like you to CHANNEL YOUR OWN INNER STUART SMALLEY/AL FRANKEN, look in the mirror and say, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”

Just kidding. Go treat yourself to a massage and some high quality chocolate before you sit back down to squeeze a little more of your heart onto the page. You deserve it.

MassW_headshotWendy Mass is the author of twenty books for young readers including Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, A Mango-Shaped Space, the Willow Falls series that began with 11 Birthdays, and the Space Taxi series which she co-writes with her husband, Mike. Her most recent is THE CANDYMAKERS AND THE GREAT CHOCOLATE CHASE, (out 8/2/16), which is the sequel to the New York Times bestseller, The Candymakers. She ate a lot of candy while writing those last two. She is currently on a cross-country RV trip where she offered her firstborn to the Ford dealer if he’d fix the air conditioning. He declined the kid, but the RV is nice and cool now. Visit her at, @wenmass on Twitter, and here on Facebook

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Wendy’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Wendy is kindly giving away a copy of  The Candymakers And The Great Chocolate Chase—hot off the presses! For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

#KidlitSummerSchool Week 3 begins tomorrow

Yay for Kidlit Summer School 2016!

Woo hoo! You made it through week 2 and we have more fun in store for Week 3!

As a friendly reminder, for the most successful school experience, try your best not to skip class! They’re offered Monday through Friday right here on the blog through our fabulous faculty guest bloggers. All you have to do is virtually show up here. If you subscribe to this blog, you can have the school come to you instead. And don’t forget if you’re not already subscribed, just head to the right sidebar and subscribe—it’s that easy!

Take a look at your class schedule for week 3. You’re going to learn a lot!

KLSS16 3









As always, please help us share the love for #KidlitSummerSchool by posting about it on Twitter, FB (including in groups of writers), Pinterest, and all other forms of social media. Simply use the tag #KidlitSummerSchool wherever you post. If you want, you can copy the ready-made tweet below and paste it into your feed. Super-easy!

More HEART&HUMOR on the 3rd week of #KidlitSummerSchool with blog posts, webinars, exercises, and more!

Here are some ways you can get the most out of Kidlit Summer School:

  • Make sure you are on the email list! All passwords, webinar links, etc. will be sent out through email ONLY. If you are not getting emails, please click HERE to troubleshoot. Because there are so many of you, we ask that you read this carefully before contacting us about a problem. A regular weekly email will be sent out (usually on Sundays). Look for it to make sure you get it!
  • Join our Facebook Group! If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School 2016, follow this link to ask to be added if you haven’t already.
  • Participate in our Twitter #30mdares: This year, Rebecca Petruck will post prompts on Twitter and Facebook twice a week so students have the freedom to arrange group dares that suit their schedules and time zones, or do them on their own. The only “rule” is to set a timer and go without stopping for 30 minutes. You can find her on Twitter at @RebeccaPetruck.   Prompts will be posted Tuesday at 9p ET and Saturday at 10a ET. To get prompts, check the Twitter hashtag #30mdare or visit the Facebook group.Publisher’s Weekly covered Rebecca’s first experience with the #30mdare. You can read about that HERE.
  • FAQ page: Check out the pages for FAQs in the navigation bar for more information on webinars, email, and #30mdares.
  • Cafe Press: Soon our 2016 design will be ready to order from our Cafe Press store. You can have your own Kidlit Summer School uniform.😉
  • Webinars: Stay tuned — we’re still working on these.
  • New to School? If this is your first time attending Kidlit Summer School, check out our updated ABOUT page for a brief explanation of how things work!


  • Perfect Attendance:
    Remember the blue-star-thumbperfect attendance award? You can get one for attending Kidlit Summer School! We’ll hold a drawing at the end of Summer School for people who commented on every post here on the blog within the first 24 hours of it going up. When Summer School is over, there will be a post explaining how to be entered for the drawing for the Perfect Attendance grand prize.
  • Author Giveaways: Some of our amazing authors will be sponsoring giveaways with their posts. You must comment on their post to qualify for these. Details will be at the end of each post.
  • #30mdare Giveaway: Students who complete at least five of the seven dares will be entered to win a 20-page critique and follow-up phone call from Rebecca. 


Relax, enjoy your day and get those pencils sharpened because tomorrow kicks off another great week … See you in class!

The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education.

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