Writers have a funny way of brainstorming.
When I was in grad school, I took a creative writing class taught by Bob Early, former editor of Arizona Highways magazine.
As senior editor of a magazine that’s been around since 1925, Early had the daunting task of filling the monthly magazine—focused entirely on Arizona—with fresh travelogues, artistic photos, and audience-friendly jokes.
“Wit Stop” was a monthly humor column written by Gene Perret, featured in Arizona Highways from 1995-2003. A three-time Emmy award-winning comedy writer, Perret served on Bob Hope’s writing team for 28 years, providing jokes on demand for the iconic entertainer. Perret wrote for many other well-known comedians throughout his successful writing career.
Early explained that Perret taught him the art of brainstorming—specifically mind mapping—as his joke writing strategy. You see, Hope would request a handful of “golf jokes,” for instance, during a commercial break. Perret would churn them out just in time for Hope to return after the break. Many of Perret’s jokes were crafted on a napkin or spare notepad. He quickly scribbled out “golf” in the middle, circled it, then drew lines from it to related topics (greens, putting, ball washer, birdie…you get the drift). Then he’d grab his top three contenders, add a punchline and pass them to the boss as he retakes the stage. Perret wrote volumes of jokes that could bring the house down, using this fast-but-simple brainstorming technique.
Jumping back to the topic of grad school, Early filled our creative writing agenda with nothing but joke writing assignments, based on what he learned from working with Perret. But not just any jokes. Clever jokes with similes, homonyms and heteronyms, political puns, onomatopoeias, and sport-related jabs. His goal was to teach us how to brainstorm quickly to produce topics, the same approach he applied to publish an award-winning magazine with different perspectives of Arizona, month after month.
Our final exam? A stand-up comedy routine. Yep, that was terrifying. My grade? An ‘A,’ plus an invitation to intern at the internationally renowned Arizona Highways magazine; one of my favorite jobs to this day.
Early’s lessons stuck like super glue. Mind mapping is my go-to tool, whether I’m writing blogs, planning an event, or developing a strategic communications plan. It’s also a productive team-building exercise that usually has everyone in stitches!