Writing That Lasts: A Comedy Writer On The Difference Between Good and Great Writing

On a recent podcast with Tim Ferris, Mike Birbiglia (known as the sleepwalking comedy giant) broke down the difference between good and great writing. 

Like most guru wisdom, his advice is disarmingly simple. 

Almost too simple.

He says that one of his writing secrets is reading quotes from the online collection called Mind Writing. One of his favorites is, “Only emotion endures” by Ezra Pound.

 To Mike Birbiglia, that means writing is essentially about emotion. A point on which I wholeheartedly agree. 

He says that cultural references fade with time, losing meaning to current readers. Emotion, however, is forever.

Emotion Separates Good and Great Writing 

So focus on emotion. Focus on giving the reader an experience that rattles them to their core.

Instead of mentioning Nike, generate the feeling of excitement and “Just do it”-ness.

Instead of quoting Taylor Swift, produce the feelings of her songs through action, setting, theme, subtext, dialogue.

Instead of setting a scene in a Starbucks or Panera Bread (which is where I’m writing this post) to connect with today’s readers, “set” the scene with timeless emotion for all readers. 

Of course, cultural references are not inherently bad – sometimes they are just what works in the scene or story – but relying on them as a crutch can diminish the emotional impact of your story. 

Remember, “Only emotion endures.” 

If you want to listen to the full podcast with Mike and Tim, check it out here.


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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Posted in books, creativity, screenwriting, writer, Writing

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