You remember Oscar Madison, the lovable lummox from Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”? Always pushing socks, dirty underwear, and food-laden dishes out of his way to scribble a few notes down on a pad of paper, Oscar epitomized a disorganized writer. Despite his casual approach to life and work his sports column thrived, but he didn’t worry much about being a better writer. He simply wrote.
Enter his roommate: uptight, obsessive-compulsive Felix Unger, a newswriter and germophobe who worries excessively about organization and feels the need to point out all of Oscar’s failings. He may have irritated people with his criticism, but he got things done and got all of his facts straight. The friends’ clashing styles cause them to have a tumultuous relationship, but each grudgingly admits the other was good for them.
Unwittingly, this 70s sitcom provided the perfect formula for you to be a better writer. It solves the problem of getting your writing out of your head and on paper and then gives you the tools to make that writing world-class. Let’s look at how it’s done.
You heard me. Go ahead, slump down in your chair, put your feet up on the table, eat some Cheetos, channel Oscar Madison and veg out. Just make sure that you write while you’re doing it. Oscar was on to something with his lackadaisical approach; he knew that sometimes inspiration needs a bit of space. I don’t mean that you should put off writing until you “feel it” — I am saying you write whenever, whatever, even if you don’t feel it! Write on the backs of bill envelopes, the cover of the phone book (if you still have one!), or on an app on your phone. If an idea strikes, just stop and get it down. Laundry will wait. Dinner can wait. Even most errands can wait. Take advantage of those lightening strikes of brilliance when the universe offers them up to you. The first step to becoming a better writer is to start writing.
Don’t force it. Be casual and know that it will come in its own good time. Stressing over whether or not you have an idea is not going to make matters better and may, in fact, make them much worse! When you write, just let the words flow. Don’t worry about whether they make sense or not. Don’t worry about punctuation, phrasing, dialogue, or story line. Just write!
Remember, Felix did have a point about Oscar’s laziness. Sometimes his laxity led to messed up finances, toxic living spaces, and disappointed friends and employers. To try and counter his friend’s casual approach to life, Felix danced in the other direction. He tidied up behind Oscar at warp speed, micromanaged his tasks and to-do list, and worried about every sniffle and sneeze. This is exactly the tact a writer needs to take when editing the works produced in a frenzy of Oscar-like creativity.
When you put your editing cap on, channel Felix’s unrestrained nit-pickery. Go over every word, every sentence, every phrase like your life depends upon it. To be a better writer, scrutinize your storyline, check your facts, and brutally remove any words that don’t add value to your writing. Clean it up until it sparkles! Obsess over verb tense and adverb use. Get psycho over subplots. Do whatever it takes to make your writing as polished as possible. If you use Felix’s attention to detail, you can’t help but be a better writer by the end of your editing session!
Felix: Ah… you “assumed”. My dear, you should never “assume”. You see, when you “assume”
[writes the word “assume” on a blackboard]
Felix: you make an “ass”… out of “you”… and “me”.
Using both Oscar and Felix’s strategies at the appropriate times allows you to channel what’s good about their approaches while eliminating the drawbacks. Loosening up to let creativity flow then tightening your scope during editing is the perfect mix to take your writing to the next level.
See you on the next page!