Stop Trying to Be Funny

Just… Stop.

You are a lot less funny than you think you are. 

I know that sounds blunt, but hear me out. 

When I was an undergrad, I desperately wanted my writing to seem clever, satirical, eccentric. I pictured my professor or TA, reading my weekly response paper, buckling over in fits of laughter, reveling in my wit.

I was wrong.

I cannot count the number of students I’ve had over the past 15 years who have fallen victim to the same impulse. Generously speaking—very generously—perhaps 1% of these students succeed. The other 99% fail, just like I did. Their attempts at humor serve purely as distractions, clouding up otherwise compelling, grounded work.

So, here is a strange piece of advice. When you write for your classes, try not to be funny. Try playing it close to the vest. “Reserved.” 

Counterintuitively, by trying not to be funny—by holding back—often times what happens is precisely the opposite. Pushing aside all that contrived, often immature, attempt at cleverness, your natural, measured wit begins to shine through. It comes through in just the right amounts, at just the right times, like a cook wielding their spices wisely, rather than recklessly.

Give it a try.

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