Yesterday, during the afternoon stretch between my lunch break and clocking out of my full-time job, I accidentally made a food pun.
It happens more often than you think, writing about food, as I do. For me, cliches are horrendous unless they’re punny, and since it didn’t happen on purpose, my reaction was autonomous: I laughed out loud.
I work alone, sitting in a room — alone. And there I was. Laughing. At myself.
I’m not sure when it struck me — this realization that being amused by your own work doesn’t make you a self-absorbed brat. But as someone who has somehow managed to develop a persona that’s two parts no-nonsense, one part take-nothing-seriously-ever, I find it impossible to believe that someone who laughs at their own unintentional jokes is a bad person.
Unless, of course, they’re bad jokes.
If your writing style falls on the more humorous side of the spectrum, never let yourself feel too ashamed of smiling behind your computer screen. Why? Because your reactions to the things you write — to a point, at least — can be a pretty good predictor of how members of your audience will react to reading the same words you’ve just written now.
Here’s the thing: if you’re sitting there, genuinely laughing in response to words on a page, it doesn’t matter if they’re yours. If you find them worthy of a good giggle, chances are, someone else will too. And that’s extremely important.
Because if something is meant to be funny, and you don’t laugh, your audience won’t, either.
The same goes for writing things that are sad, or inspirational, or informative. If you’re not deeply affected by a sad story as you’re telling it, neither will anyone reading it. If you’re not inspired by the words you compose, no one else will be. If you don’t learn something new as you write to inform, your audience will walk away having learned just as much as you have.
We’re often afraid to trust our own gut reactions to our writing. It’s the whole “you’re your own worst critic” mantra — the idea that if you think something isn’t good enough to publish, you’re probably wrong. That’s a real phenomenon, and in no way am I here to chip away at it. I just don’t think it applies here.
We’re constantly second-guessing ourselves, worrying about what other people are going to think or say in response to what we’re writing. We forget that our initial reactions to our ideas and our words are all the proof we need that something is the best it can be, good enough, or not ready to be released into the world.
If you ever laugh at something you write, take it to mean you’re doing your audience a favor. Not everyone shares your exact sense of humor. Many people won’t get it. But some will — especially if you’re writing humorously for an intended audience.
You’re more aware of the quality (or lack thereof) of your own writing than you think you are. If you’re confident a piece of writing will accomplish what it’s supposed to, go forward with haste. And if you’re like me, and humor happens accidentally, well, embrace that. It’s better than trying to make a running joke fit the narrative and failing miserably the whole way through.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.