Fear of Being Funny

By guest blogger Charlotte Rains Dixon

I’ve never thought of myself as funny. And yet, my forthcoming novel (Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, Vagabondage Press, Feb 2013) is funny.

It’s not just me saying that, hoping it’s funny. The novel is actually funny, conceited as it feels to say. How do I know this? (Because there’s nothing worse than someone thinking their work is funny when, really, it’s not.) I know this because I’ve sat around a table with a bunch of writers reading my manuscript and laughing heartily, sometimes even in places I didn’t expect.

Believe it or not, witnessing people laughing at my work made me a little uncomfortable, just like declaring the novel was funny made me feel conceited. And all of these feelings go back to one basic thing: a fear of being funny.

I think this is because I never set out to be funny. If I had, I’d probably be the unfunniest person in the world. When I try to write funny, the result sounds forced. No, this novel is funny because the protagonist—Emma Jean Sullivan, confirmed baby-hater and champion to all childless couples everywhere—inhabited me one day and started talking. And she was funny as all hell. Or rather, her warped view of the world was funny. Because much of the humor of the novel comes in the gap between Emma Jean’s lofty image of herself and the harsh reality of her life.

Emma Jean herself doesn’t even realize she’s funny, and she surely wouldn’t understand what the writers reading my manuscript were laughing about!

Now that I’ve written one funny novel, I feel the pressure to be funny in my next one. Which is a sure way to not be funny, because desperation of any sort always pushes things away—whether those things are creativity or something less esoteric. But, when I look a little deeper, I realize this fear of being funny is yet another variation on that fun companion, fear of writing.

My fear of writing manifests as vagueness and lethargy, a sort of general feeling that writing will take too much energy. And, indeed, writing does take energy—but the part I forget is that it also gives me energy. And so I plunge in again (one of my favorite techniques is to set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write), and the tiredness falls away as I put one word after the other. Amazingly, some of those words turn out to be funny.

Charlotte Rains Dixon, writer, writing coach and blogger

Charlotte Rains Dixon


Charlotte Rains Dixon writes and teaches writing from her home in Portland, Oregon where she lives with her husband, two enormous cats and an ancient pug. Charlotte blogs at www.wordstrumpet.com and tweets as @Wordstrumpet. Read the synopsis for her forthcoming novel: Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.

13 Responses to Fear of Being Funny
  1. J.D.
    July 20, 2012 | 7:45 AM

    Charlotte, I can’t wait to read about Emma Jean. I need to revisit Erica Jong’s book. I think the first time I read it I wasn’t concerned about writing. I might even have skipped a few pages.

  2. Charlotte Rains Dixon
    Twitter: wordstrumpet
    July 20, 2012 | 10:06 AM

    J.D., I bet you did skip a few pages. And that’s actually a great suggestion, to go back and read that book! I remember it being quite funny (and sexy) at the same time.

  3. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    July 20, 2012 | 3:33 PM

    Haven Kimmel is fuuny as all get out. She wrote A Girl Called Zippy and She Got Up Off The Couch. So I snatched up everything she ever wrote/published and was disappointed to discover they were her two only humorous books. It was a wake up call for me, who also writes humor, not to get pigeonholed into one category. How do you get around this besides writing with a pen name?

    Your book sounds great, btw, like someone I used to be before I had my own children.

  4. Charlotte Rains Dixon
    Twitter: wordstrumpet
    July 20, 2012 | 5:22 PM

    Tricia, I love that statement–that Emma Jean sounds like who you used to be before you had children. That’s hysterical. I do think that a lot of authors choose pen names precisely because they write such different things. It’s hard to be funny on demand, maybe she just ran out of oomph for it. Thanks for reading!

  5. Lisa Ann Hayes
    July 20, 2012 | 7:27 PM

    I’m looking forward to reading your novel (LOVE THE TITLE) and the “being funny” thing resonates. When I started my blog 6 months ago, I didn’t think of myself as funny. I’m a published songwriter from the serious Springsteen camp of writing and my first attempt at a novel has amusing “dark” moments. But my blog? Firmly planted in tongue-in-cheek funny. Who’d of thunk?

  6. Charlotte Rains Dixon
    Twitter: wordstrumpet
    July 20, 2012 | 11:43 PM

    Lisa, I’ve been to your blog and you’re right–it’s definitely funny! Isn’t it amazing how these things happen?

  7. Terri
    July 21, 2012 | 1:08 AM

    Some of the best funny comes around when one isn’t trying… at least not trying too hard. Isn’t it fascinating when characters inhabit us? I will have to check out your upcoming novel.

  8. Charlotte Rains Dixon
    Twitter: wordstrumpet
    July 22, 2012 | 10:27 AM

    Terri, yes, I love the experience of when a character starts talking. It recently happened in the novel I’m currently writing, when a new character walked on and insisted on a part. He’s going to be one of my favorite characters in the whole book! I hope you enjoy the novel when it comes out.

  9. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    July 23, 2012 | 5:50 AM

    It sounds like it will be a great read, Charlotte. And this stuck out for me: “Emma Jean herself doesn’t even realize she’s funny, and she surely wouldn’t understand what the writers reading my manuscript were laughing about!” Literature is rich with characters lacking self awareness, and they’re always a blast!

    • Charlotte Rains Dixon
      Twitter: wordstrumpet
      August 7, 2012 | 2:35 PM

      Thanks, Patrick! That’s a great point about the characters lacking self awareness in literature. I think we relate to them because no matter how evolved we get, we’ve all been unaware of ourselves at some point in our lives!

  10. Minda
    August 1, 2012 | 6:51 AM

    (Because there’s nothing worse than someone thinking their work is funny when, really, it’s not.) … I actually find this funny, so I assume the book is funny too!

    • Charlotte Rains Dixon
      Twitter: wordstrumpet
      August 7, 2012 | 2:36 PM

      That’s so true, Minda. I’ve been at readings and in groups when writers read their so-called funny stuff and nobody laughs. Awkward. Glad you thought the post was funny and I hope you like the book, too!

  11. […] Emma Jean is funny. Like, all the time. I’m not. Well, I’m funny once in a while. But not consistently. I’m even afraid of being funny. […]

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