Using Your Past Productively, or "The 80s Strikes Back"

The 80s has been making a bold return lately. Right now The Karate Kid remake and the new A-Team movie are in theaters. New Voltron and Thundercats cartoons are being made. Soon the third Transformers movie will grace the big screen, followed by a live-action adaption of the Smurfs. It's pretty cool to see all of these 80s classics reimagined for modern times, even if we know all of these adaptations will suck bilge water.

But you can't afford to suck. If you suck as a freelance writer, you might as well head back to Cubicle Land, where Bob steals pens because he doesn't know the magic words that will take him to Office Depot Land. And even though these new 80s-inspired films and shows will totally eat, it does remind me how important the past is to your success. After all, if we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it. That's why the next time someone asks me to do a weekly column, I'll pass because I'd rather fill my week getting eaten by tigers.

Still, take advantage of your past to prevent yourself from making mistakes in the future. It's a good mindset to have. Now that I follow this advice, I'll always remember that my sister is not a good substitute for normal bargaining chips.

  • Reuse and repurpose old work whenever possible. Now, it's bad form to reuse the same old jokes, but we comedy writers get around that by changing the setup or the punchline. The result is keeping a joke's structure while giving it fresh life, maybe by changing the punchline to something about farts. You can do the same with anything you write - keep those reprint rights and send that article out multiple times to maximize potential income. This is vital to freelance writing success, or as I like to call it, "Hey, look! Mom doesn't have to buy ALL of my groceries!"
  • Keep guidelines on what works. As I've learned more about writing jokes, I've recorded the techniques that work best for me. Now I've got a little checklist I can use to write the best jokes possible. You should do the same with any big task you regularly perform. Making a checklist will help you get through it more quickly. Of course, make sure you know what you're doing before you try to dumb it down into a checklist. You don't roll into an operation to hear the doctor say, "Nurse, get me my brain operation instruction booklet from the closet," right?
  • Never forget your roots. Sometimes we get caught up trying to find more work or, in my case, earning enough money to pay for walls. It's easy to start trying different things and lose sight of your goals. I'm not saying you can't mix it up, but always keep your actions focused on what kind of business you want and what work you'd prefer to do. You'll be a lot happier, even if everything isn't perfect. And since this is Planet Earth, where teachers get paid less than guys who hit around a disk with sticks until it flies into a net, that's par for the course.

Dwelling on the past is perfectly fine, as long as you're selective. Dwell on the best ideas from your past that give you the greatest advantage. You'll need all the best ideas you can get, especially since this whole freelance writing idea has gotten you into enough trouble.

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Matt Willard's bio begins with witty phrasing that succinctly illustrates his stance as a humorist. It is then followed with a clever sentence that illustrates what he does in his spare time. The bio concludes with a shameless link to his Twitter profile, paired with an off-hand comment that alludes to his success with women. Laughter.

6 thoughts on “Using Your Past Productively, or "The 80s Strikes Back"”

  1. Good tips, Matt. Only today I mined some old articles for inspiration for a new client article on the same topic. It was a different slant, but it certainly helped to have the research already done!

  2. I can’t believe they’re remaking shows from the 80s! The Smurfs movie looks. However, they’re are many screenwriters out there who have original work to be produced.

    I never thought about reusing my work. Thanks for the tip. I can go back and rewrite articles from a different angle.

    • The Smurfs movie has one of those trailers that instantly lets you know the movie is going to stink. Theaters might as well show it with a subtitle: “We’re very sorry, but we needed the money.”

    • omg — it’s so funny you mention that, because a friend just sent me the link to that trailer. I think it’s awesome that Hank Azaria’s going to play Gargamel. But papa smurf looked like an evil blue santa claus. Very weird.

  3. I always try to reuse content whenever possible because you have to remember that you took the time to produce content, if you didn’t sell the full rights by all means maximize its potential by getting it further out there 🙂


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