Usually, when I write a humour piece, it all begins with me in the car listening to the radio, waiting for those moments when a song comes on that I hate - loath even. For instance, something like "Truth" by Spandau Ballet is just the sort of thing that will (seriously) make my ears bleed and force me to turn the stereo off. At which point, I have a moment of silence to think about things that could work in a science humour context.
I find I usually start off with a silly title, and then essentially it goes from there. Because I teach, I also try to see if I can coerse the piece into something that can double as an education aid for my graduate student classes. Then, when I have a few lines in my head, and when the opportunity presents itself, I hurriedly scribble down things in my note book, so that the idea has a chance of resurfacing.
Most times, these scribbles end up looking a little incomprehensible like this:
And quite often, when I reread them, a different idea or direction will take effect (i.e. in this case, the piece was initially about God applying for a position within the National Institutes of Health, and then inspiration struck to instead turn the attention to Dr. Phil).
As far as actually sitting down, and "writing," I find most times it will come out pretty fast (say in 30 minutes or so), which then leads to a round or five of editing, such that all told, the collective writing process will often take no more than an hour and a half.
Next is the query letter, which I'm of the opinion is something that should stand as a piece itself, especially when you're submitting something humourous. For Dr. Phil, this was pretty easy because I actually had a personal anecdote I could use in my letter. Here is what I sent to McSweeney's:
Here is this week's offering. In truth I like the premise, but it may be a bit too subtle (although Magic 8 Ball gave a positive response). Anyhow, comments are appreciated.
I actually have a bit of a personal tie with Dr. Phil in that years ago, when I was keen on writing a book, I managed to secure the services of a literary agency who subsequently dropped me because one of their clients was taking up too much time - that client was Dr Phil McGraw. This is my small attempt at getting back. Yes I am a nasty nasty man.
This one took a while to get a response back, but I found out that it was largely due to them liking it, but wondering if it fitted with the McSweeney's tone. In the end, it didn't, but the editor was nice enough to suggest Yankee Pot Roast, where it finally found a home.
Anyway, click here to read Letter of Rejection to Dr. Phil.
Foghorn Leghord doing Yoda! Perfect.