Advice for Writers : Dan Harmon (creator of Community)

“First, you need a round hole in your chest that goes all the way through you.  I can never stress enough to the kids, it has to be a perfect circle, about the diameter of a drinking glass rim, it has to be in the absolute center of your chest – like where a heart would go on a plumber or a woman – and it has to go clean through you.  If you’re standing in front of me and I can’t see the wall behind you, you’re never really going to write much more than a dream journal, recipe book, or maybe one of those manuals that tells people what writing is.

A lot of people say “what about my heart, what’s going to pump my blood around,” which brings us to step two: you have to be made of something other than flesh and blood.  I prefer to be made of mud, because it keeps women and children away from me.  Other writers are made of dirt, or excrement, the choice is yours, it just can’t be anything that anyone would want in their bed and it has to be a substance that adheres to itself but nothing around it, so that you can keep a generally human shape for as long as possible.  Appearing human-like is important to the next step.

Sit or stand in front of paper or a computing device and turn your back to everything, which will incite it to attack you.  Everything preys on humanity and goes for the heart, so hold still, arch your back and it should shoot through your hole and onto your keyboard.  As it passes, it will be tainted and scattered by the inside rim of whatever you’re made of, which some would call your “voice” but which I call “filth.”  The more there is, the more people notice you’re “a writer” and the more you’re doing it wrong.  Your job is to be a heartless piece of dirt, a puppet, a necessary but largely unremarkable conduit of something better than you, something lovable, something with purpose, and your one redeeming act before it finishes with you is to find the angle at which you barely affect its path.

If none of this is possible, you could always become an assistant of some kind on Glee and I’m sure eventually you’d just get to write one.  Good luck!”


Community : Dan Harmon

My friend Dan Harmon talks about his break out television show Community at the AV Club. Here are a few choice bits:

On Laugh Tracked Multicamera Shows:

“I think that hearing people laugh at the end of a long, hard day, if you cut that out of your life… Some of us can afford to do that because our jobs aren’t as hard. And we get to think about TV for a living. We want more of a challenge. We value the TV actively, ever so slightly asking us to do a little bit of the work in our head. And I don’t want to slip into bagging on it like it’s a base craft, because obviously the good stuff is satisfying, richly satisfying to everybody. Smart people, dumb people, who cares. You’re going to catch more brains with this sort of thing that fundamentally has that going for it. It just makes people comfortable. Single-camera suggests to people that you’re a fly on the wall. You’re floating around in space; you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled for story and lessons and things. I wish there was a bigger secret to it, but I think we just like to howl at the moon with a hundred of our pack. “

On Writing Romance and Audience Expectations:

“I think that the audience is very, very picky about what they’re being fed. They don’t want to feel like you think they’re stupid and I think they feel like you think they’re stupid when you suggest to them that this is romantic, this person and this person are destined to be together and you think that’s cute. You’re inviting them to go, ‘No, I don’t think it’s cute.'”

On 30 Rock:

“I love 30 Rock.”

On the Fourth Wall:

“The fourth wall cannot be broken in my mind. I have a real sensitivity to that. People feel like it’s the opposite, that it’s constantly caressing it and punching it, challenging it and stuff, but it really couldn’t be more the opposite. I really believe that you need some pop-culture referencing and some little bit of, “Wow this is really sort of coming together like TV shows do” in order for modern audiences to actually believe what’s happening is happening, because that’s how you and I would react if we were in those situations. We would not just go, ‘Oh good, I’m glad we all worked this out in 20 minutes through a succession of Joseph Campbell steps.'”