How I Write: Dave Barry
Published: March 28, 2003
|Dave Barry's network of Alert Readers know a wacky story when they see one--and a good humorist when they read one. For 20 years, as a writer for The Miami Herald, Barry has stared human existence straight in the face and found, well, weirdness and lunacy. In columns syndicated to 500 newspapers and in 24 books, Barry has found goofiness all around--in our aging bodies, in the overconfident babble of financial experts and the terrorist threat posed by 87-year-old women at airports, and in kangaroo flatulence and bridal-bouquet-eating iguanas. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988, but seems prouder of playing guitar in a literary band that includes Stephen King and Amy Tan and is otherwise noteworthy only for its extreme volume. In his latest novel, Tricky Business, he shows a sure touch in choreographing mayhem aboard a gambling vessel during a tropical storm. Two of Barry's books were the basis for the CBS sitcom Dave's World. Barry, 55, lives in Miami with his wife, Michelle, and has a son, 22, and daughter, 3, both of whom, he reports, have virtually identical sleeping patterns. |
Credits: 22 nonfiction books, including Babies and Other Hazards of Sex, Dave Barry in Cyberspace, Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys, Dave Barry Turns 50 and Stay Fit and Healthy Until You're Dead, and two novels.
Why: The most logical profession for me, based on my natural gifts, would be male underwear model. But I've always loved to write, because it gives me a chance to express my ideas. Unfortunately, I ran out of ideas in 1987, but by then I'd been a writer for 15 years and had no useful skills. So here I am.
Where: I write in an office in my home. My desk is a few feet from that of my wife, Michelle, a sportswriter who also works mostly at home. We can hear each other chewing.
How: I use a computer. Unfortunately, this computer also has the Internet on it, so I spend a lot of time looking at sites that have nothing to do with what I am allegedly writing about.
Ideas: I scrawl notes when I think of something. My house has scrawled notes all over. They say things like "snail rocket," and when I look at them later on, they serve as a reminder to me that when I wrote them down, I had consumed a lot of beer. So I throw them away and go into a state of panicky despair and then write a column. Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing.
Influences: Robert Benchley is my idol. I've been reading him since I was a kid, and still return to his essays regularly for inspiration. My mom was pretty funny, too.
Writer's block: I believe "writer's block" is the normal state of writing; that is, you rarely have anything just flow easily from your brain to the keyboard. And if it does, it's usually pretty bad. Good writing is almost always hard, and what I think sometimes happens is that writers forget how hard it is, or don't want to do the work anymore, and they call this "writer's block."
Writing novels vs. columns: The hard part of novel-writing is the plot; you have to make so many decisions, and each can affect what can and can't happen later. So I had to do a whole lot more planning than when I write columns, and planning is not one of my strengths, the way underwear modeling is. What I liked best about the novel was making up characters, and watching them develop and turn into people whom I did not totally control.
The challenge of humor writing: Overcoming the fear that whatever you think is funny really isn't.
Advice to writers: Don't be boring. Don't assume every thought you have is fascinating to others. Your job is to give people a reason to keep reading.
--Posted March 28, 2003