This Writing Advice By Jerry Seinfeld Will Spark Your Creativity
And enable you to make sustainable progress
Writing is the ultimate form of expression. It allows us to physically, tangibly capture whatever is in our head and let it out through our own, highly individualized and distinct writing style for the world to see it. These beautiful characteristics, paradoxically, are the same that make writing extremely hard.
Anyone who writes on a frequent basis knows how challenging it is. Let’s be clear: writing is a constant struggle. From the lack of ideas at the start of the creative process, to missing the exact word you are looking for to accurately reflect a specific concept or thought, to deciding what to include or eliminate from your piece… The obstacles are endless, and they can often lead writers to enter a love-hate relationship with their craft.
Comedians, and more specifically stand-up comedians, are no strangers to the grind involved in consistent, high-quality writing. Prior to performing on set, these professional “laugh-makers” ideate every single one of their jokes with painstaking detail using writing techniques that are no different from the ones that a novelist or journalist might employ.
Jerry Seinfeld’s “Baby / Prick” Strategy
Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most acclaimed comedians — and thus writers — of the last decades, was a recent guest on The Tim Ferris Show, in which he explained the mentality he tries to apply whenever he gets writing to prepare for shows.
If you are used to performing any kind of writing-related activity, his point of view will most likely will resonate with you. His advice can be highly useful for everyone battling to get words out of their head and on a piece of paper:
“You always want to reward yourself. The key to writing, to being a good writer, is to treat yourself like a baby, very extremely nurturing and loving, and then switch over to Lou Gossett in An Officer and a Gentleman and just be a harsh prick, a ball-busting son of a b****, about, ‘That is just not good enough. That’s got to come out,’ or ‘It’s got to be redone or thrown away.’
So flipping back and forth between those two brain quadrants is the key to writing. When you’re writing, you want to treat your brain like a toddler. It’s just all nurturing and loving and supportiveness. And then when you look at it the next day, you want to be just a hard-ass. And you switch back and forth.”
Seinfeld’s advice is designed to avoid the famous “writer’s block” or any potential obstacles that a writer might encounter at different stages of the writing process (which, like we mentioned, are many).
The best part about Seinfeld’s “Baby/Prick” strategy is that it can be applied on other areas of life as well, especially in those situations in which the best solution is to be kind to ourselves, either after a tough stretch, or just because we need to gather energy for a future challenge. This is the “Baby” side of his theory.
It is just as necessary, however, to implement the “Prick” part of Seinfeld’s strategy. Self-care alone, without work ethic or self-accountability leads to mediocrity, excessive comfort, and lack of progress. This is why Seinfeld emphasizes that the “prick” should always follow the “baby”, switching back and forth between these two modes.
The key to Seinfeld’s plan is to find and execute a balance between the Baby and the Prick, and to know when to be kind or demanding with ourselves. The moment we feel stuck or hit by a lack of creativity, a “baby mindset” that promotes just getting started, no matter the quality of our output, can be tremendously powerful. However, we won’t get too far if we don’t review that work later and strive to achieve excellence — or at least progress — with a demanding attitude.
Another “Seinfeld Strategy” To Avoid Procrastination
Given the immense and variety volume of jokes, situations, and just random ideas he constantly has to come up with to be one of the best in the business, Seinfeld has become a master of productivity.
In a fascinating article for Harvard Business Review, bestselling author James Clear details an extremely simple yet effective strategy that helps Seinfeld avoid procrastination: creating a “chain” of daily red crosses on a big, annual calendar, in which each single red cross equals a day of writing, no matter the quality of it:
“It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”
Again, this strategy does not only apply to writing, but also to any long-term endeavor that requires daily tasks, repetition, and discipline, such as learning a new language, mastering a new sport, working out…
The core principle behind this technique is as well known as it is underestimated: consistency. Often overlooked, consistency provides us with a sense of routine and habit that helps slowly incorporate a feeling of achievement, no matter how little it might be. This technique, additionally, provides a clear visual cue that physically represents the progress made so far. The bigger the chain of red crosses on the calendar, the harder it will be to break it, because we are building a relevant set of daily accomplishments somewhat resembling a house of cards that will be destroyed when we fail to fulfill this daily goal. Again, on some days, that daily goal might look like it has been carried out by a baby, but on others, it will actually look like a high-quality piece of work that would pass higher standards.
Thank you for reading! My goal is to create a community in which we can all respectfully discuss all types of ideas to enrich our lives and mindsets. I am always more than happy to connect and chat, so if you have any feedback, comments or suggestions about this piece, or about any of the others that I have written, please reach out on the Comments section or shoot me a message on LinkedIn.