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Masterclass

How to write creatively with Sam Bain

Balance's deputy editor James Gill meets long-time comedy writer Sam Bain...
How to write creatively with Sam Bain
May 8, 2017   |    James Gill

A BIT ABOUT ME

I’ve written with Jesse Armstrong for 20 years. We wrote Channel 4’s Peep Show for 12 of those, but now I’m embarking on new adventures. Yes, it’s scary – you have to get out of the boat and learn to swim again.

DON’T JUDGE YOURSELF

People tend to have an inner conflict about writing. They judge themselves harshly when their writing’s not very good. You have to accept that what you write for the first few months – even years – won’t be very good. You need patience. If you have too high expectations of yourself, you’re going to be disappointed. Remember: writing is rewriting.

MAKE THE TIME

Don’t get bogged down by things that don’t matter, such as insisting you have an office to write in. Jane Austen didn’t have an office. The key, ultimately, is finding time. A lot of people want to write, but they can’t make the time. When you have obligations – financial and family – it’s harder and so you have to do it regularly and make it a routine, such as exercise. When it’s a routine, it becomes more automatic and a lot easier.

USE YOUR PHONE

Some people carry around a pen and paper to write stuff down when inspiration strikes. However, I’ve got this newfangled device called a phone. I think it’ll catch on. I don’t tend to have brilliant ideas on, say, the bus, but occasionally things might come up.

EMBRACE DEADLINES

Ever since I started out on a creative writing course, I haven’t achieved anything without a deadline. I recommend courses, because they provide two essential things: deadlines and feedback. Laziness is the enemy of writing, while deadlines get you off your backside and make you get on with it. Maybe introduce a rewards system, too: a biscuit if you finish writing a really good bit.

THE OUTCOME

‘When it comes to writing creatively, just keep doing it. And discover what you enjoy. If you think you should be writing in a certain way, then it’s never going to be good. But if you have found something you love, then do that. Keep it fun and find your bliss.’

Sam Bain’s debut play The Retreat opens on 2 November at the Park Theatre, London

Read more: How to grow old gracefully with Joe Lycett

FOUR STEPS TO WRITING COMEDY

1. TAKE A LEAP
Your weird thoughts might match what others think. We proved that the day we used thoughts as voiceovers for Peep Show – it felt like finding a goldmine.

2. BUDDY UP
Writing in a partnership is much more sociable, and very different to writing on your own. It takes away a lot of the pain of having to motivate yourself.

3. BE AUTHENTIC
With comedy, it has to come from your heart. People like a genuine connection. When I see David Mitchell on a panel show, it’s honest.

4. LISTEN
Eavesdropping is a good way to pick up funny things, as is listening to your friends. And listen to yourself: the best inspiration I get is from my own stupid thoughts.

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