Joseph A. Bailey

Joseph A. BaileyJoseph A. Bailey is a staff writer for television programs such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

Unfortunately, screenwriting is usually depicted (on screen) as sitting down at a keyboard, typing, “Scene #1”, and typing right through to, “End Credits roll.”

If you do that, you’ll be staring at the screen for a long, long time. Even before you sit down, you should have some idea for a movie in your head.

For example, maybe a friend told you about a recent romance that made you say, “Wow!  That’s right out of a movie!”

Now, figure out what would be a great ending for that movie. Once you do, you’ll already have several plot points (elements of your friend’s story), and an ending for your script.

Next, do a scene-by-scene outline of the script. As you work it out you’ll be creating a raison d’etre for each scene as well as refining your characters. While you’re doing that, try to think as visually as possible.(There’s a reason they call them moving pictures.) Keep at it until you’re completely happy with the story, and you can tell yourself the entire movie, scene by scene, from beginning to end.

By now, you should be dying to start “writing.” Since you know your characters, you know the ending, and you know what each scene has to accomplish, you’ll have to work really hard to get blocked.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I usually start my writing sessions by doing (or attempting) a crossword puzzle. It gets you thinking about words: You’re looking for synonyms or puns. You’re trying to decide if the clue is a noun or a verb. You’re on the lookout for themes in the puzzle. And, if you do it habitually, the Pavlovian principle kicks in. You brain starts thinking, “Hey! If I’m doing a crossword puzzle, I’d better get ready to write.” (I did a crossword before I started this questionnaire.)

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

My very first writing job was in an advertising and P.R. agency. My very first assignment was to write a speech for an executive, which gave me my very first case of writer’s block. My boss, Ed Hall told me to write the Lord’s Prayer. When I finished, Ed asked me if that was what I wanted to say. When I said no, he told me to re-write it. “Our Father Who art in heaven” became “Good evening ladies and gentlemen . . . “ “See?”, Ed told me. “Now, you’re re-writing. Re-writing is always easier that writing.”

Re-writing is also the secret of good writing.

When I wrote The Muppet Show, I shared an office with Don Hinkley. Don had written for Steve Allen, Carol Burnett and Flip Wilson. In CBS Television City, Don overheard a script meeting between TV comedian, Red Skelton, and his head writer.

All he heard Red Skelton say was, “There’s too many words before chopped liver!” That’s the crux of a lot of bad comedy timing – too many words between a joke’s set-up and punch line.

Don also taught me the term, “jokeoid.” That’s something that feels like a joke when you think of it; reads like a joke when you write it; and sounds like a joke when you rehearse it. But, when you tell it to an audience, nobody laughs.