Turning a Mess into Success

I have a speech tomorrow, and last night it kept me up all night. I always have that level of anxiety with new material, because so much of it sounds unfunny and disorganized. All sorts of new ideas are scattered around in my head and on scraps of paper, and it's a true mess. Seeing that mess fills me with frustration and anxiety -- because of the looming gig on my calendar that demands it not be such a mess.  

But -- what comforts me is to realize that all of our successes start out as messes. And the people who succeed have the willingness to navigate their way through the mess to find the great material that's hidden within.

There's nothing as unfunny and un-fun as writing a speech or writing a comedy. Remember how on Seinfeld, Jerry and George would brainstorm ideas for their "show about nothing" -- and everything came easily and made us laugh?

In the real world, writers are often frustrated, anxious, doubtful, and frequently find themselves staying up past midnight staring at a laptop and guzzling pitchers of coffee, desperately hoping something will come to them other than the awful first, second, and third drafts they've been staring at for hours.

So many people want to write a book, do standup, or be paid as a speaker, but give up too quickly because they're weighed down by the feeling that every idea has to be perfectly formed in their head BEFORE they start typing it.

In my New York weekend workshop, everyone learned that material doesn't come out of you fully formed like a newborn colt that can just leap to its feet and gallop. New material comes out raw and unformed, and most of the time just lays there like a baby bird, until with rewrite after rewrite, you finally feed it enough that it can fly.

So don't paralyze yourself with the need to be perfect. The only need is to start. And whether you're writing your story, an act, a speech, it doesn't matter how you start; just start -- and commit and nurture and parent that idea, until it gradually takes on a life of its own.

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Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.