Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hard Work Does Pay Off

I think my writing has reached a new level. I can honestly say that I'm writing better gags than I wrote 20 or so years ago when I started doing this type of work. Of course, if you ask me how things are going when I'm making no sales and no checks are coming in, I may not be so enthusiastic.

When I look back over the gags I wrote 20 years ago I sort of cringe. But, in my defense, I started writing captions for single-panel cartoons not knowing what I was doing. I taught myself by studying business cartoons, reading everything I could find about how to write comedy and cartoon gags with no background doing this at all. Previously, I had written hundreds (or was it thousands?) of one-liners and sold many of them to comedy services to be used by disc jockeys, speakers and comedians. One day I realized that these one-liners could be illustrated and turned into a cartoon. My writing career changed!

Fast forward 20 years and today I'm writing gags for four syndicated cartoons and about five other non-syndicated cartoonists. The people I write for has changed considerably over the years.  Cartoons, with my gags, have run in The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, Barron's, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Better Homes & Gardens, First For Women, Reader's Digest  and many, many other top publications. The syndicated cartoon I've written for the longest? The Lockhorns. I love to write those husband/wife and mother-in-law gags (and now I am a mother-in-law!).

I plug along at gag writing everyday (at least five full days a week plus many nights and weekends). I read constantly and the phrases I jot down in my notebook become gags. I get away from my desk occasionally and actually do things, go places, observe and make comments about what I hear and see, which many times becomes the basis of new cartoons. I read The New Yorker every week and additional stories on their website, The 2004 book, "The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker," has become my textbook.

I believe that if you find the thing that you really enjoy doing the work becomes easy. It's not really work. You enjoy doing it. Sometimes I think back to all the jobs I've held since I graduated college. There have been great ones and some not so great. This work experience has provided me with lots of material (so has being married and having children). I believe my writing has greatly improved in the past 20 years and I'm writing things I never imagined I would. I continue to work at it every day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Writing Gags

Because I'm a cartoon gag writer, I need to come up with new material on a daily basis. Besides reading constantly, being aware of new trends, keeping up with what's going on in the world, I realize I have to know the basics - how to actually write a gag. Gags (jokes) have two parts: a straight part and a twist. There are many books out there which will help you write good gags, but basically you have a straight part (think of it as a statement) and the twist (something unexpected at the end). If you can understand this, you can write gags. Books on this topic go much more in depth as to how this is done (for example: using fewer words for greater impact; always having the punch, or twist, at the end; the use of opposites) but this is the basic formula.

As I've explained in other columns, when I write gags on a particular topic, like the upcoming election, I make it easier for myself by making a list of anything I can think of that has anything to do with elections, such as: debate, polling place, candidate, contributions, cast your ballot, absentee ballot, acceptance speech, concession speech, answering questions, etc. These items, places and phrases will be used in my gag writing. It's like assembling different colors of paint before you start painting. It makes it much easier.

I also think you have to know the audience or publication you're writing for by studying the type of gags and cartoons they use. Different publications have different voices. If you study enough cartoons, or gags, in any one publication, it becomes part of you.

I also think you have to know yourself and be honest about who you are and what your opinion or outlook is. If instead of using all the latest technology you're stuck back in the Ice Age, you can easily write about how much you enjoy being back in the Ice Age. You can poke fun at yourself for being back in the Ice Age and also poke fun at those who are 'on trend.'

Any questions about any of this, feel free to email me at: Be well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Working Harder in 2016

As I begin a new year of writing, I'm constantly fine-tuning what I do - what I spend my time on. And I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not writing enough. I've come to realize that I need to spend more time on the things that are easy for me and which are most productive. I know I have to spend much less time on the things that distract me, are unproductive and simply just a waste of time.

Right now I'm focusing on my work, with writing and more writing every day...and, guess what? It's working. I'm producing many more gags and, I think, of a higher quality, because I'm putting in the effort. Because selling gags often takes a lot of time, I may not see the rewards of my efforts for awhile, but I feel better about it because I feel more productive. I'll let you know how this extra effort goes. It can only be good.

I wanted to let my readers know of a special event in Manhattan next week. The Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year with an art show featuring present and past members January 5th through February 27th at the Society of Illustrators. An opening reception, featuring a buffet and music, plus the appearance of many of these artists, will be held at the Society, located at 128 E. 63rd Street (near the corner of Lexington Ave.) on Wednesday January 20th from 6-9pm. Some of the artists whose work is on display include: Sy Barry, Stan Goldberg, Ray Alma, John Reiner, Valerie Costantino, Joe Giella, Al Scaduto, Bill Seay, Mike Lynch, David Gantz, Bill Hoest and Roberta Fabiano. Cost is $25. You must RSVP to Adrian Sinnott at Prepayment is necessary and when you RSVP Adrian will tell you about the prepay options.

Any questions about this column, please send me an email at:

Continued success to all my readers in 2016!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Be Willing To Try New Things

As I start the new year - 2016 - I'm trying to be more successful at what I do. I'm trying to write better gags and sell more of them. To accomplish this, I'm keeping a regular schedule; focusing on the goals I've set for myself; getting rid of the projects I'm not good at and going into new areas of writing and speaking.

Over the years I've written for comedians, disc jockeys and public speakers before I even started submitting material to cartoonists. In some ways I was very successful writing one-liners for these people but for some I was very unsuccessful. I also used to sell a lot of ideas to companies that produce humorous buttons and magnets. I tried to do this again a year ago and could not sell one idea. But, I tried, and when you try something and fail it lets you know that this is not the right thing for you at this time. So, you focus on the thing that you do well. That comes easy to you. And, you get better at it.

Just because I'm a writer it doesn't mean I can write anything. Far from it. I can't write poetry. I have no interest in writing novels. Or cookbooks. Or technical manuals for computer companies. What I seem to do best at is write humor...making fun of situations, people and all the crazy things that we encounter on a daily basis. This is what comes easy to me. This is where I focus my attention.

I also think you have to be willing to try new things - go into areas you haven't gone into before. I've written gags for single-panel gag cartoons for almost 20 years. This year, I started writing for multiple panel cartoons - something I had never done. I figured out how to do it by studying multiple panels, getting books out of the library about cartoon writing and focusing on what I needed to know to do it. And, I have to say I've been successful at it.

So, it's important not to limit yourself. It's important to make note of all your writing and/or drawing skills and figure out where you can use them.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the things you can accomplish.

Continued success to all my readers! Any questions or comments, email me at: