Dec 022010

Here’s a snippet from a Q&A Stephen Colbert did on Reddit. The whole interview is here, and it’s generally interesting. But for my purposes, the nub of what he has to say is in these few lines. He’s talking about his early career, how he got started as an actor. Getting into trouble means saying yes to every chance you’re offered to perform or produce, to write or paint or act. Pay or no pay. Just keep getting yourself into situations where you have to produce, situations that make you panic and focus. Panic is always good for a writer.


I mostly just said yes to any opportunity to get on stage. Pay or no pay. Equity, amateur, comedy, avant garde, and improv especially. Chicago has a great improv community, and I could get up on stage a lot after I got to know the other members of the community. I called it getting in trouble. You say yes to something, then you are in trouble. You have to deliver. Each mini-crisis I forced myself into made me work hard.

—Stephen Colbert

  13 Responses to “Getting into trouble, a little advice for aspiring writers, actors, or anyone else who wants to get somewhere”

  1. In that regard, the Internet is a wonderful boon for a writer because there’s more opportunity to panic. Words in front of other eyes is really all that matters.

  2. “Panic is always good for a writer.”
    Thanks, anyway. Not for this one.

  3. Hmmm… I sometimes think this is how my daughters have (successfully) made their way in life. Rare is the day they don’t wake up having to stand and deliver — something, somewhere. They’ve even started to influence the old man in this regard.
    Maybe this is also the magic at the core of “chair time.” if you make the appointment to sit there, you end up scribbling something — out of shame if nothing else. And then, there it is, staring back at you, and yep, you’re in trouble.

  4. I would agree. Performing under pressure brings out qualities in yourself that wouldn’t be evident otherwise.

    And a maniacal persistence.

  5. I use the Goldilocks rule for panic: we each have our own “just right” level of panic that motivates without freezing. A little chugging-along time is okay now and then, but when it goes on for too long I know I am losing my edge and start looking for a way to hot-up the oatmeal.

  6. Yes, this is a good reminder. Lately I’ve found myself avoiding things that make me feel like I will throw up. Like blog posts (they’re so public) or submitting to journals (they’re so rejectful) or starting a new story about something I don’t know anything about (there are so many things I don’t know anything about). I’ve done well at my day job by taking risks; the same should apply to my writing.

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